It's full steam ahead to Ireland for the Penn State football program. That was abundantly clear throughout the dialogue from Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner and head coach Bill O'Brien Friday morning with reporters.
It will also be full steam ahead for Penn State quarterback Tyler Ferguson, who remains in California with his family, according to State head coach Bill O'Brien. The signal caller returned home around the July 4 holiday to be with his family – his mother is currently going through treatment for breast cancer, according to Pennlive – and the second year leader was adamant that the sophomore would return to campus for training camp. He referred to the commotion surrounding Ferguson's absence as "making a mountain out of a mole hill."
"I'm not sure what the big deal is with that. No, he's not back at school, and you know, summer is voluntary," O'Brien said. "I don't know where we got this ball rolling on whether he was here or not. Summer workouts, summer school, is voluntary.
"And so, Tyler has gone home. His mom is sick- he has a great mom, and he's gone home, and he'll be back for training camp."
Focusing on Ireland though, O'Brien said his players are "really excited," for the trip, though he was quick to note that he hasn't had any interaction with them on the topic, or any NCAA topic, to stay in compliance with NCAA rules.
The head coach went on to add that he hopes a situation will arise where the team can practice in the morning before spending the afternoon sightseeing in Ireland, and noted his excitement, as well.
Joyner handled most of the administrative chatter, noting that contractual talks were the first hurdle with getting the game's wheels turning. The NCAA did not need to give the program any special permission to make the trip, he said, and also that the program kept the Big Ten conference apprised of the planning progress, even though it was not required.
In terms of a timetable, Joyner currently envisions the program heading to Dublin – home to the game – mid-week, on Tuesday (Aug. 26) or Wednesday (27), explaining that a full week was not likely due to State's fall semester being in session before the first game of the year.
Talking travel plans, Joyner said the program and the Ireland government have people with experienced in shipping and handling game-necessary equipment, and also heaped praise on the Ireland and Irish people for their assistance in facilitating the game planning. He and UCF head coach George O'Leary were on hand at Dublin's Croke Park – home to the game – last Sunday to announce the game, and both appeared on what he coined as Ireland's "Today Show" television program.
The kick time, 1:30 p.m. local and 8:30 a.m. EST, was planned through ESPN, which will carry the game. Currently, it is expected to be found on the network's ESPN2 channel.
"UCF went over several weeks before our delegation, and with a very favorable opinion of the Irish, and how well they do these things," Joyner explained. "They've had two games at Croke Park, and they've done a lot of work to line these up before."
Reports from the Centre Daily Times surfaced last week noting that O'Brien had addressed the State Board of Trustees regarding the NCAA sanctions, and with "nothing to hide," the head coach addressed those talks Friday.
Noting that he had appeared in front of the board, who had a regularly scheduled meeting, on an invitation from the entity, he said he presented the sanctions, and his thoughts on them. He added that he's been asked many questions about them since taking the job, and "wants to do what's right for these kids, and this football program."
He declined to detail his personal thoughts on the sanctions, deferring to Joyner and State president Rodney Erikson. When asked about a reduction in the sanctions, he deferred to them again, but did give a brief overview.
"I believe this football program is being run the right way, and I believe we have great kids here," O'Brien said. "I think we work very, very diligently to stay in compliance, just like every program around the country, and we make our mistakes but admit them right away.
"I think we're in compliance, and hopefully at some point in time the NCAA, the governoring body of college athletics, look at that and can meet us halfway. I go back to what I said when the sanctions came out- I understand why the sanctions are in place. It's about putting an end to child abuse, and about the victims, and I get that, I really do, and we're doing our part to help put an end to child abuse.
"But, at the same time, I want to do what's right for this program, and I think this program is moving in the right direction, as well."
Joyner was also asked about the sanctions, and said the program, and university is focused on dealing the hand they are currently dealt.
The former All-American added that the university has done "an outstanding job," and also received good feedback from former U.S. senator George Mitchell, the program's Athletic Integrity Monitor.
He believes that the football program performed as well "as anyone could have expected" in 2012, crediting the "hard work" of the program's athletes and coaches, while also noting the success of the rest of State's athletic programs. He coined it "one of the best years, if not the best year, we've ever had at Penn State," in terms of across the board success.
"Look, we're focused on dealing with whatever the sanctions are right now. Whatever may happen or may not happen down the line is always contingent," Joyner said.
"We're not planning on anything happening, so we're paying attention to doing what we have to do, and what we've been given to do, and doing it very, very well. We're going to continue to be focused on that."