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The upcoming Penn State football season will be played, if at all possible — even if it means being pushed back into the new year.
While athletic director Sandy Barbour talked about various athletic issues related to the ongoing new coronavirus outbreak, the focus kept returning to football, Penn State’s largest fan following and money maker, during a Thursday video conference with reporters.
She said a 60-day on-campus preparation period seemed the mostly likely length for football players and staff before a season could begin. With the first game scheduled for Sept. 5 in Beaver Stadium, that would mean students would have to be allowed to return to Penn State by early July for a season to be played on time and uninterrupted.
The NCAA already has prohibited recruiting until at least May 31.
And yet, despite so many “unknowns” in dealing with any athletic future related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Barbour also said she cannot envision playing games in stadiums without fans. The safety issue must be equal for everyone involved in the experience, she said.
Which leads to the possibility of a delayed college football season.
Barbour would not rule out pushing back the start of games, even to the beginning of 2021 (March through May?), which would still fall within the fiscal budget parameters. Football at Penn State provides the economic stability for many of the university’s 31 sports.
Possibilities include starting the football season in October (eliminating non-conference games) or beginning in the spring with playoff games in May of 2021.
Her cautious optimism for a “2020” football season goes against some, like ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who said he would be shocked if college or pro football seasons were held this fall.
“We’re going to do everything we possibly can to have a football season in some way, shape or form,” Barbour said.
While the pandemic, with its health and safety issues, “is far bigger than sports … sports absolutely will play a huge part in bringing all of our communities back together again, when the time is right.”
Many athletic directors across the nation fear that universities will have to eliminate programs, slash salaries and lay off workers to survive the upcoming revenue loss of not playing the games. Barbour responded by saying Penn State is in “decent shape” financially for the rest of 2020 but did not rule out significant cost-cutting measures beyond that.
“That’s not something we’re looking at now,” she said of cuts.
“Our 31 programs and 800-plus student athletes is in our DNA, part of who we are. … Our primary focus is on holding our 31 programs together.”
Meanwhile, all university-wide construction projects have halted during the pandemic, which includes athletics, Barbour said.