Penn State football players are back on campus getting ready for the spring semester — which starts today — and with the full intention of going through spring practice coming up in a couple of months.
But will spring ball actually happen this year?
It was canceled last year because of COVID, so the Nittany Lions didn’t practice and didn’t have their annual Blue-White Game.
“Right now we’re planning to have spring football,” James Franklin said Monday, “but we haven’t really been told that’s a go yet.”
The coach brought that up as part of a question about trying to plan for the coming months. He later was asked specifically if there’s a possibility spring practice won’t happen.
“Nobody has really come out and said it either way,” Franklin said. “And I guess what I’m saying is, what 2020 has taught me and I think it’s taught us all, is that you’re going to have to be prepared for what comes, especially when you’re dealing with a pandemic and all those things.
“I think obviously after going through a season, it’s easier to say that we could pull off a spring ball and do it the right way, after already being through a season. But not no one has said anything either way.”
The question of whether or not Penn State can have spring practice is huge. That’s the case every year for every college football program, but especially so this year for PSU with the team bringing in yet another offensive coordinator in Mike Yurcich.
Penn State brought in Kirk Ciarrocca as OC last year, and he did not have spring ball or even the summer to install his system in person with the players and other coaches. Everything had to be done by Zoom, and while that is an effective tool, it simply is not as good as teaching concepts and schemes in person.
As Franklin said, the program has already gone through a season with COVID, and Penn State did it better than just about any team in the nation from a health standpoint, as the Lions didn’t have to miss any games.
Still, the decision about having spring ball will have to take many things into account, and it may or may not be left up to just Penn State to decide.
“I still see basketball programs opting out,” Franklin said. “I’ve seen that, people canceling their season. I think a few women’s basketball programs have opted out.
“So it’s just hard to tell. It’s hard to tell how the Big Ten is gonna handle some of these things, how the NCAA is gonna handle these things. But we’re moving ahead and prepared and planning on doing it all.”
Another huge aspect of the spring is recruiting, particularly with having prospects visit for the Blue-White Game. If that cannot be played for the second straight year, it would be a hindrance.
The NCAA currently has a dead period in effect until April 15, so no recruits can’t visit until at least then.
“We don’t really know kind of where recruiting is gonna go and when some decisions are going to be made by the NCAA and when some decisions are going to be be made by the Big Ten,” Franklin said. “So it’s harder to plan out when there’s still questions out there.”
No matter what happens, Franklin and his staff must be flexible. The coach likes to have everything planned out far in advance and is meticulous with planning, and last year all of that had to be thrown out the window because of the pandemic.
“This has taught me a valuable lesson that we’re gonna have to be prepared for whatever comes and we’re gonna have to be flexible,” Franklin said. “So right now we are planned from today moving to training camp as we normally normally would, until someone tells us different.”