A trend has emerged in America amid the coronavirus pandemic that Penn State coach James Franklin hopes doesn't translate to the 2020 college football season.
Individual states are easing social distancing restrictions on their own timelines, attempting a relative return to normalcy at a staggered rate. Nineteen remain completely locked down, six will begin reopenings soon and 25 are partially reopened already.
That's something Franklin would like to avoid in college football, if possible — he'd prefer all schools to open their camps at the same time for the sake of an equal competitive playing field. Franklin, speaking on a Wednesday conference call, mentioned that a peer had asked him what it would look like if the Big Ten couldn't open its camps simultaneously.
"That's what he was kind of recommending, that the Big Ten kind of (has to) come out and say, 'Hey, this needs to be kind of consistent across the Big Ten,'" Franklin said. "I said, 'I just don't think that's going to work. It either needs to be national or not at all.'"
College football stakeholders have already considered solutions to this potential problem, including a split, truncated or spring season — and none at all. That said, any potential fixes to the COVID-19-affected season may need built-in disadvantages for it to be played. Most of the schools in the Southeastern Conference, for example, have expressed that they will reopen as usual in the fall, presumably allowing for football to return as well.
But what if the Big Ten schools couldn't all guarantee a similar start date?
"Say we have two or three schools at the end of the season who are part of the (College Football Playoff) conversation," he said. "The schools that we're competing against in other conferences, (let's assume) they were able to open before we were, and the Big Ten held back certain schools. … It's not ideal."
Franklin took his hypothetical a step further, pondering what might happen if teams within an individual conference were unable to start the season at the same time.
"Say you have six schools in your conference or eight schools in your conference that all are able to open, and there are one or two that can't." Franklin said, "Are you going to penalize all these schools not being able to reopen?"
(Pennsylvania will begin reopening Monday).
While Franklin said the NCAA should take steps to ensure "conferences aren't opening earlier than they should," he added that he's a believer in science and medicine and that any reopenings should be in lockstep with experts' recommendations.
In the end, this might be too tough a logistical problem to overcome.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick has already said he doesn't care whether his teams are placed at disadvantages in relation to resuming play. The priority, he said, should be their health and safety.
“I’m not concerned about competitive advantage or disadvantage,” Swarbrick said in a Tuesday teleconference. “I accepted long ago in this pandemic that’s a natural consequence, and I have told our coaches over and over again: Do not focus on that issue. Focus on health; your health, your staff’s health and, most important, the health of our students. And we’ll go from there.
"Whatever the consequences are, they are."