Lions coach understands Big Ten decision, but not happy with it

FILE - This file photo from Oct. 26, 2019 shows Penn State coach James Franklin as he watches the team warm before an NCAA college football game against Michigan State, in East Lansing, Mich. A football player who transferred from Penn State claims in a lawsuit filed Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, against the university, and head coach James Franklin, that other Nittany Lions players hazed him and other younger teammates, including allegations they imitated sexual acts in the shower and invoked Jerry Sandusky's name. (AP Photo/Al Goldis, File)

James Franklin has had more than a week to digest the Big Ten’s decision to cancel its fall season due to the coronavirus, but in speaking publicly for the first time Wednesday, it’s clear he isn’t over the disappointment.

He used terms like “gut-wrenching” and “heartbroken” for his players and was critical of the conference’s lack of communication with the coaches in the final hours leading up to what he called “maybe the most important decision in the history of the Big Ten.”

“I don’t necessarily have an issue with the decision, but I have an issue with the process and the timing,” he told reporters on a Zoom call.

He said a leader’s job in delivering bad news is to at least have some answers, which he didn’t and still doesn’t concerning what kind of replacement season will take shape along with eligibility questions for the players and their families.

“Extremely frustrating,” he said.

He also believes the NCAA erred for its lack of an across-the-board plan and feels the Power-5 conferences should be in concert–if one isn’t playing, then none of them should be.zTo this point, the Big Ten and Pac-12 canceled their fall seasons and the SEC, ACC and Big 12 are moving forward.

“The NCAA I grew up with was trying to level the playing field as much as possible,” Franklin said. “I’m sitting here wishing for what’s best for college football, not just the Big Ten.”

While positive news, adding to his frustration is the fact that PSU has had zero positive cases within the football program, Franklin said. Including the latest statistics released by Penn State. Of 700 athletes tested, less than 10 have been positive.

“So many people worked so hard to make it work,” he said, adding he was constantly reminding players and staff to remain socially distant and to wear their masks. “I was like Mother Hen, and it was working.

“It was working.”

Franklin does not think the conference will change its mind, so he’s now focused on “doing what we can to save the 2020 season and get back to normal for the 2021 season.”

That’s why instead of a spring season, he favors a winter model–potentially beginning in December or January–which will provide more recovery time for the players.

“Whatever the model chosen needs to be least impactful on the 2021 season,” he said.

He’s part of a Big Ten committee working on the possibilities and mentioned the NFL maybe moving back its February combine and April draft to provide accommodation.

He said the use of domes in Big Ten country, in which all teams can gather on weekends, and television crews won’t have to mobilize.

The NCAA announced Monday night teams not playing this fall can only practice 12 hours per week, which also angered Franklin, who said, “I don’t agree. Other teams are playing a season, and we get 12 hours?”

Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour said Monday she wasn’t sure if the presidents actually voted to cancel the season or a consensus had been reached.

Franklin said he doesn’t know if the Big Ten heard stakeholders’ voices of concern prior to its decision, but “I think they have (been heard) now.”

He was satisfied with the interaction with Commissioner Kevin Warren “before and after, but we were caught off-guard, and things changed quickly. That’s where the frustration came from, when things started to swing in the wrong direction.”

He said the league “made the decision in the best interest of the health and safety of the student-athlete.”

Franklin said this spring that he did not plan to see his family, which is staying in Florida, until the season ended because one of his daughters, Addison, has Sickle Cell, making her more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

After getting the news last Monday night that the season was canceled, and waiting for his virus test to return negative (which it did), Franklin drove 12 hours to the family’s home in Destin, Florida, and spent a few days before returning earlier this week.

“It’s been an emotional roller-coaster,” he said. “There are so many mixed messages out there. You talk to six different doctors, and you get six different answers. The inconsistency that you see and feel makes it difficult to understand.”


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