Penn State’s James Franklin may be willing to leave teams behind, but the Big Ten shouldn’t be

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James Franklin is OK with the idea of leaving some college football programs behind this fall.

Has he realized his Penn State team might be one of them if the sport goes that direction amid the coronavirus pandemic?

The Nittany Lions’ head coach told ESPN he believes conferences should move forward and play if a majority of their schools – but not all – are able to. And if one or two are not in a position to resume play due to COVID-19 issues, so be it.

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“I can’t imagine that right now we’re all going to open at the same time,” Franklin said to ESPN’s Heather Dinich on Wednesday. “If the SEC, for example, opens up a month earlier than the Big Ten, and the Big Ten is able to open up and 12 of the 14 schools, if two schools can’t open, I don’t see a conference — any conference — penalizing 80% or 75% of the schools because 25% of them can’t open

“To me, unless there’s a level playing field and the NCAA comes out and says that no one’s opening before this date to try to help with that, what you really end up doing is you end up hurting the conference. Say two or three of the schools in our conference that are ranked in the top 10 have the ability to open and a couple schools don’t, and you make the decision to hold the entire conference back, you’re hurting the conference as a whole in terms of your ability to compete.”

What is really hurting the Big Ten right now, though, is the virus. All over.

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This is not just a Rutgers problem. Or a Rutgers, Illinois and Northwestern problem. Pennsylvania has the sixth-most confirmed coronavirus cases in the nation and Michigan is seventh. So we’re at six of 14 league members inside the top seven states now. Would Franklin sign off on the remaining eight-school majority, sans his team, pushing forward? And do the other eight programs want to go it without six of their counterparts?

Moreover, 10 of the league’s 14 members are located in states inside the top 15 nationally in cases. Maryland, Indiana and Ohio were Nos. 13-15 in that order as of early Wednesday evening according to CNN. And Iowa is now right outside the top 20 and has seen a surge of new cases in recent days. Would it really be worth it to abandon a handful of schools if there is risk that you all could be sidelined soon after?

Look: There could be a conference or two that has a reasonable case to play on without a member or two, especially the more geographically-diverse ones. And it’s also possible that some leagues could not play, but allow members that are ready to find some sort of alternative season. But the Big Ten always likes to act as if it operates on a higher plane than its fellow leagues. Maintaining solidarity would be a good way to show it.

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James Kratch may be reached at jkratch@njadvancemedia.com.

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