Despite a recent swell of public backlash from Big Ten players and their parents frustrated with the league's abrupt decision to reverse course and postpone fall sports until the spring, Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour said on Monday she doesn't think the conference presidents will change their minds and reinstate the 2020 season.
"The presidents and chancellors made their decision based on science, based on information from medical experts and based on concerns about uncertainty in a number of different categories," she told reporters on Monday. "I don't see that changing, but I also appreciate the passion of our parents and our student-athletes and I appreciate both where their hearts and their heads are."
The university also issued a statement later Monday again backing the Big Ten's decision to postpone the fall season.
"President [Eric] Barron supports the Big Ten Conference's decision, which was based on an accumulation of testing and tracing results that vary across member universities, growing concerns being expressed from medical experts, and newly-emerging evidence of the potential health risks for student athletes due to post-COVID complications," the statement read. "Nothing is more important to Penn State than the health and wellbeing of students."
On Sunday, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields started a petition requesting that the Big Ten immediately reinstate the 2020 season, and by Monday morning, it had garnered more than 223,000 signatures. Parent groups from Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa also sent letters to Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren asking for more communication and an opportunity to discuss the decision with him.
The Big Ten has acknowledged receipt of the letters but hasn't had any further comment, including on Monday when reached by ESPN.
Last Tuesday, the Big Ten announced its decision to postpone fall sports -- just six days after releasing its conference-only schedule. Barbour said on Monday she doesn't know whether the presidents actually voted.
"It's unclear to me whether there was ever a vote or not," she said when asked directly how Barron voted. "Nobody has ever told me there was. I just don't know whether there actually was a vote by the chancellors and presidents.
"It is clear to me that Penn State and Eric Barron, both on our campus and as he took his thoughts to the Big Ten and the various conversations that they had, explored every option to play -- every option that would have been acceptable from a health and safety standpoint," she said. "To say that Dr. Barron fought for the ability of our student-athletes to play this fall, I think that would be a correct assumption."
Barbour said she has talked with Barron "numerous times," and it was clear that "the things we had concerns about all along," like testing availability, standardization of testing and contact tracing, remained concerns, but there was also a fear of the unknowns regarding long-term health implications.
"Those things all added up," she said. "... Any one of us can disagree with the decision itself, but we can't disagree that it was made with health and safety in mind.
"Simply as I can put it," she said, "in the end, there was too much uncertainty for them to believe it could be done safely."
Barbour said waiting a few weeks wouldn't have changed the league's outlook. "The long-term impacts are something we can't know," she said. "We can't know right now, and frankly we can't know in two or three weeks either."
Barbour said she understands that parents and their athletes need a concrete plan for the spring and that Penn State hopes to announce its concepts in "the next week or so."
"I absolutely see it being viable," she said of a spring season. "Obviously it's going to depend on where the virus is at the time. All of our sports are going to depend on that, but being who we are as athletic directors, we turned our attention to that pretty quickly. Tuesday afternoon into Wednesday, and along with our coaches, along with some of our sports science people, our sports medicine folks, we are far down the road on concepts. Obviously a lot to be done in terms of dotting I's and crossing T's, but we've put something together that I think is very compelling and our student-athletes and our fans and our communities will be pretty interested in."
Barbour is on the NCAA's football oversight committee, which she said is meeting multiple times this week to try to develop a "hybrid model" for the football teams that are hoping to play in the spring. Currently the football team is allowed to train under the NCAA rules normally in effect for preseason training camp.
Barbour said sometime around the middle of September, the NCAA will come up with something that "won't look exactly spring ball-ish, but it will be a hybrid as those football programs lead into what would be a spring semester season."
"Let's face it," she said, "whether we're projecting to play in the fall,or projecting to play in the spring, we're all just projecting to play."