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PSU will make effort to play football in 2020

Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour doesn’t know exactly when the next college football season will begin, but she sounded confident there will indeed be a season, even if that means delaying it until next spring because of the coronavirus.

“We’re going to do everything we possibly can to have a football season in some way, shape or form,” Barbour said during a video conference with reporters Thursday afternoon.

“Right now we don’t have those answers in terms of when,” she added.

Penn State officials are looking at analytics and talking to health experts to better understand the time frames they could be looking at, the AD said.

“What do we need for safe and healthy return to play for student-athletes, not in terms of exact dates, but in terms of time frames?” Barbour said. “How long do we need for our fall sports to come in and restore fitness and then obviously health and safety to return to play?”

Specifically with regards to football, Barbour indicated the players would need about 60 days of preparation upon returning to campus before they could start the season.

“We’re not going to bring students back to campus until it’s safe,” she noted.

With the Nittany Lions set to open their season Sept. 5, it would mean the campus would need to be opened up to students once again by about July 5.

Whether that’s a feasible date is anyone’s guess at this point. If not, the start of the college season very well could be pushed back, which in turn could lead to a shortened season.

“If we were able to get back in a month, if we’re able to get back in six weeks, if we’re able to get back in two months, if we’re able to get back in whatever the time period was, we started kind of breaking it out — what’s this going to look like for us from a football perspective?” PSU coach James Franklin said last week.

There has been growing concern within college football that the season starting on time is becoming less and less likely. ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit went so far as to say last week that he’d be “shocked” if there is college or NFL football at all this fall.

So, what about next spring? That actually could be a possibility for the college game, Barbour indicated.

“If our return fits into a time frame that we have to do it in a non-traditional time of the year, I think we’ll all look to make that happen,” the AD said.

Penn State and most other major college programs badly need to have a football season because of financial concerns. The PSU football program generated $100.1 million in revenue last year, the sixth-highest figure in the country, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education.

That money goes a long way toward paying for the university’s 31 Division I athletic programs. Without the massive football funds, could PSU be in danger of having to drop other sports?

“Our 31 programs and 800-plus student-athletes is in our DNA,” said Barbour, adding that cutting sports is not something the university would be interested in doing.

Penn State football also generates millions of dollars for the State College and surrounding communities, including Blair County, as fans flock to central PA for home games. If there were to be no season, businesses across the region would face financial crunches.

“I will say this: To all great Penn Staters, we’ll be back,” Barbour said. “This is not about sport. This is far, far bigger than sport. But sport absolutely will play a huge part in bringing all of our communities back together again when the time is right.”

But when will the communities get together again at a football game? Even if the season does get under way at some point this fall, one big question could remain: Will fans be allowed to attend the games?

Barbour was asked how she would feel about having to play games in an empty stadium.

“Obviously it’s not the ideal, it’s not what you want to do,” she said. “But it also just depends on what our choices are. What are the scenarios that we’re faced with?”

Barbour later noted that it would be hard to justify saying it’s safe enough for players to play games if it wasn’t safe enough for fans to be in the stands.

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