CHICAGO -- Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour held an unscheduled press conference here Friday. And a good portion of the Q&A with reporters at Big Ten Media Days was spent talking about drum roll, please the Nittany Lions' football schedule.
James Franklin's program is in a unique situation for a couple of reasons. First, PSU is just coming out of NCAA sanctions that ended earlier than anyone expected, so moves that were made to ease the schedule (take a look at this year's non-conference slate) are still in play.
Also, the Big Ten is going to a nine-game conference schedule next year, meaning conference teams will only be able to line up three non-con games per year. FCS opponents will no longer be allowed.
It's one big, massive puzzle, Barbour said. I think our first opening for a power five opponent is (20)21-22.
Barbour said building the schedule is a balancing act. On one side, Franklin is on record as saying he does not want to load up the non-conference schedule.
The Big Ten scheduling model (of nine conference games) is taking care of strength of schedule for us, he said earlier Friday.
He's right, Barbour added. We've assured ourselves of strength of schedule.
But there is more to consider, because fans want to see more power programs on the schedule. Further, alumni in different regions of the country want to see the Lions play there every once in a while.
Guess who gets to arbitrate that, Barbour said. And I understand both perspectives. So it's my job to bring that together somewhere in the middle.
That said, Barbour is making no apologies for this year's non-conference schedule, which includes four home games against non-power five programs (Temple, San Diego State, Buffalo and Army). In her view, PSU is still feeling the effects of the sanctions.
Depth issues, youth issues still exist, she said. So I thank the previous athletic directors and football coaches who put us where we are from a competitive, strength-of-schedule standpoint. This is going to be what this program needs right now.
Just wrapping up her first year at Penn State. Barbour said the program's ultimate goal is to win Big Ten and national championships. And that will play a factor in the approach to scheduling, especially a few years out.
Obviously, we believe we're gonna be a lot stronger football program then, and what do we need to do to be on that national stage? she said.
It does not sound like a long-term series with former rival Pitt is going to be part of that answer, though. The two teams begin a four-year, home and home series next year. Panther officials have publicly stated they would like to extend it.
Though she did not give a definitive answer -- and said she will talk to new Pitt AD Scott Barnes in the next month or so -- Barbour did not seem all that enthusiastic about the idea of extending the series.
We've agreed to talk about it, she said. We'll see where that goes.