To our readers: Thank you for taking part in our Mailbag Monday this week. Star Tribune beat writers received many questions about the teams and leagues we cover, and each writer selected at least a couple of questions to answer. Look for a question and answer about each team in a future edition of the Star Tribune.
Q: What are the football players doing right now instead of the organized spring practice? Did the give each player some kind of workout routine/study guide to do on their own? – @blurapala
A: I’ve written about this a couple times, actually (here, here and here). But basically, yes, strength coach Dan Nichol has put together a home workout regimen for the players that they can do without a ton of fancy equipment. They’re allowed to have some team and position meetings, as well as optional sessions. It is a much more independent routine for players in terms of workouts, film study and classwork. But they can video chat coaches or teammates if they ever need more guidance.
Q: With the success on the field and the success in recruiting, do you see Coach Fleck coaching at the U in 5 years? – @davefauth
A: Truly, who is to say? That’s such a personal decision. The short answer is yes. I can see anybody doing anything, nothing surprises or disappoints me anymore, haha. When a coach decides to change jobs, I think it really comes down to what he/she individually want. Some people crave change and want to climb to the highest heights they can. Some enjoy the challenge of staying and building and having a long career at one place. I don’t think either is wrong. I can’t say I can predict what P.J. Fleck might do in five years. But definitely if a program is continuing to rise, it makes it less tempting to leave.
Q: What is happening to the student-athletes that don't have a place to go with school closed? Are they forced to rent somewhere near campus? Did their dorms stay open? – @jtrulland
A: Last time I heard, there’s fewer than a dozen student-athletes still on campus for various reasons, such as being international with uncertain travel restrictions or having a better quality of life at school than at home. Most, I believe, were staying at technically off-campus housing, like apartments they were renting. For the few who might have used dorms or other student housing, I know the school made sure they weren't left stranded.
Q: Having covered both Penn State and Minnesota football, how would you compare and contrast these two programs? Please include campus, stadium, press coverage, fan base, recruitment, administrators and coaches. – @AndyKuhenel
A: Wow, such detail. In an effort to not make this 1,000 pages long, here’s my quick-hitter compare and contrast. (For those who are unaware, I covered Penn State football for a season in 2016 for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette before coming to the Strib.)
- Campus goes to Minnesota. It’s urban. Penn State is … not. I also had to regularly drive the five-hour roundtrip through nothingness to get there from Pittsburgh, so. It wasn't my favorite.
- Stadium, point Penn State. Beaver Stadium is massive, and being there for a White Out game is a thrilling atmosphere. Though I do like the TCF Bank Stadium press box and media setup better.
- Press is a tie. We are all equal and fair in the eyes of the News Gods. Penn State has far more coverage, regularly 20-plus reporters showing up from across the state for every press conference. The Gophers have, like, five, but we are mighty! I like the smaller crowd here because it gives me a better chance to get to know the team and tell deeper stories. But having a lot of compatriots on the Penn State beat built me some lasting friendships and professional connections. But in general, Penn State garners way more coverage, especially nationally. But the Gophers have me, so, I mean. That's obviously a huge advantage :)
- Fan base. Penn State’s is. Voracious. Gophers have their moments as well but are generally a little more Midwestern in their approach to things haha. Both passionate, though!
- Recruiting. I think Penn State obviously still has the edge here. They’re one of the blue bloods, after all. But the Gophers are on the rise and currently looking very strong for 2021.
- Administrators. I loved that Penn State has one of the few women athletics directors in the country in Sandy Barbour. But I think Mark Coyle runs a pretty solid department at Minnesota. Both are great.
- Coaches, see this story (written pre-Kirk-Ciarrocca departure, haha). I think James Franklin and P.J. Fleck are two of the best coaches in the game when it comes to building a culture, having players buy in and holding them to that standard. I've enjoyed working with them both.
Q: What happens to the non-conference games if the talked about conference-only season happens this fall, and how will that possibly affect future seasons? – @KStapleton359
A: The answer here is the answer to most questions these days: I don’t know. None of us know. If teams have to cancel one, two or all of their nonconference games and go to a possibly conference-only season because of the coronavirus pandemic, the ramifications of that could echo for a couple years. The simplest thing would be to just cancel them and never make them up. But obviously, these nonconference games are contracted out decades ahead of time, so it depends on the contract language, if there is a way to navigate a cancellation that wouldn't cost either or both parties significant money when athletics departments will already be hurting. I think all teams will lose money in that scenario, since I believe the intention is for every team to cancel a couple home games. But again, there are a lot of college football teams, and it’s not as easy as it seems to just tell every team to cancel a few games across the board. Will the games be made up somehow, someway in the future? Maybe. Will not playing conference games affect what teams make it to the College Football Playoff? Probably. But also, will there even be a college football season? I. Don’t. Know. Wish I did.