Now a month removed from the Big Ten’s decision to postpone fall sports, James Franklin and Ryan Day remain frustrated at the lack of feedback from conference leadership.
So the Penn State and Ohio State head coaches continued to take their issues public by criticizing the league on Thursday.
Franklin went first, doing an interview with ESPN Radio in which he laid out many of the same concerns he had the morning of Aug. 11, just hours before Big Ten presidents and chancellors voted to not play in the fall.
“We just haven’t gotten great communication from the beginning,” Franklin told hosts Keyshawn Johnson, Jay Williams and Zubin Mehenti. “We never really have fully been told or understood why the season was shut down in the first place, and then there hasn’t been a whole lot of communication since. We’ve had meetings, but I’m talking about kind of really understanding why and what and how we got here.”
In the past month, the Big Ten has been squabbling about what comes next, as athletic directors such as Ohio State’s Gene Smith and Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez admitted that there had been no plan discussed for a season later in the school year prior to the vote.
Coaches like Franklin, Day, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Nebraska’s Scott Frost have touted their low COVID-19 numbers and their desire to play sooner rather than later. A push has come from the football contingent to try and get back on the field in mid-October, which could allow the conference to join the College Football Playoff race along with the SEC, ACC and Big 12.
Harbaugh has gone as far as to tell his players to prepare as though they would be playing next month, just in case. But the coaches still want to hear more updates from first-year commissioner Kevin Warren.
“I think the big challenge as the head football coach is that your players and your parents think that you have all the answers to what’s going on, but the reality is, we’re dependent on the Big Ten to drive this thing forward,” Franklin said. “It’s been challenging. It truly has.
“To be able to stand up in front of your team and parents and tell them that the season is canceled, postponed, but not have any answers as to how that affects their future and when we will be playing football and still haven’t a month later. That’s the hard part.”
Day echoed those thoughts when he released a statement on Thursday afternoon.
The Buckeyes, who would be the favorite to win the conference and reach the CFP, aren’t interested in letting that opportunity disappear.
“The communication of information from the Big Ten following the decision has been disappointing and often unclear,” Day said. “However, we still have an opportunity to give our young men what they have worked so hard for: a chance to safely compete for a national championship this fall.”
Day directly mentioned “creating a safe pathway toward returning to play in mid-October.”
“These young men and their parents have asked so many questions that I do not have an answer to, but the one that hurts the most is, ‘Why can these other teams and players play and we can’t?’ ” Day said.
The main answer seems to be that the Big Ten’s health officials are less confident in the ability to play safely through the risk of COVID-19, particularly as it relates to the still-unknown long-term effects of the disease. That includes some Big Ten athletes who have tested positive turning up with signs of myocarditis, a potentially serious heart condition.
And while coaches may be pushing hard to play, any decision will be made by the presidents and chancellors, who reportedly voted 11-3 against playing as scheduled in the fall.
One of those 11, Rutgers’ Jonathan Holloway, addressed the situation on Thursday in an interview with NJ.com. He doesn’t sound ready to change his mind, preferring to wait so the conference can “learn about the science, different kinds of tests and potential vaccines.”
“I know other universities are facing unique pressures in the other direction. I get that. That’s just where I am right now,” Holloway said. “… If I’m wrong because I was erring on the side of safety, I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t think I’m wrong, though. I just don’t think it.”
Rutgers, Maryland, Michigan State and Iowa all had to suspend football activities at some point this summer because of positive tests for COVID-19. Wisconsin joined that group this week, announcing a two-week halt.
The inevitable spike hit Penn State this week with 48 new cases among athletes that forced an unspecified number of sports to pause workouts. Football was not one of them.
“Fortunately, based on our guys’ discipline and based on our guys’ decision-making and a little bit of fortune, a little bit of luck, we’ve been in a pretty good place really since June,” Franklin said. “That’s not us. That’s not our program (being paused).”
Caught in the middle of everything are the players themselves.
“Opportunity is now here!” Penn State senior tackle Will Fries wrote on Twitter. “It’s not too late for a decision to be made to go forward and play. Our team has worked extremely hard to have a successful year and our coaches and support staff have enabled us to do that in a safe way.”