As he prepares for what will be his 42nd season at Penn State, Russ Rose said he’s spent a lot of coronavirus time playing golf and reading just about every book written by John Feinstein.
“He’s an unbelievable writer,” Rose said.
Of course, the book that made Feinstein famous was about Bob Knight and Indiana basketball called “Season on the Brink.”
There is no Penn State women’s volleyball book on the horizon, but we certainly seem to be facing a season on the brink.
When we spoke this past Friday morning, Rose was getting ready to recruit.
By phone and Zoom.
He normally would have been preparing for what could have been an important camp on campus.
Not only has he missed out on campers, Rose hasn’t been able to see his own returning players, who didn’t return to campus until July.
“But we haven’t had any access to them and won’t have any access to them until August 6th or 7th when we’re allowed to officially start,” Rose said.
“We can have Zoom meetings with them. They’re allowed to lift. The only ones allowed to see them are the strength coach and the athletic trainer. The trainer’s been handling all their conditioning and monitoring their health and wellness as far as their testing.
“The freshmen are here and I haven’t seen them at all.”
Which is not what Rose or any coach wants.
“There was always the hope that the NCAA was going to rule favorably to allow all the fall sports to have access to the kids during the summer,” said Rose, whose 41-year record stands at 1,299-212.
“But that didn’t happen. That impacted field hockey, the two soccers, and women’s volleyball, so all of their sports who haven’t had access to their kids since February or March didn’t have that. And right now football and basketball have access to their kids even though in basketball’s case they don’t play until October or November.
“Meanwhile we’re going to be starting in August and won’t be able to see our kids until August.”
No one knows for sure that there will even be a fall volleyball season, but the latest was that on July 9 the Big Ten Conference announced that its fall sports would play in-conference competition only.
If nothing else, it means Penn State won’t be playing some of its annual highly anticipated early season non-conference matches. Rose, whose program has won seven NCAA titles, the last back to back in 2013 and 2014, said one benefit of those matches around the country is adding some accuracy to the polls.
“And from a coaching standpoint, it’s a good indicator of giving your team a chance to play and coaches a chance to assess their talent. There are things you can gain and assess before you actually get into the heat of battle that you’re going to really need once you get into conference play. Hopefully it’s a one-year situation and not a long-term problem.”
But in the short term, Rose, who signed a new four-year contract in February, is ready to get going.
“Personally I would prefer to have a fall season. I think we’re assuming everything’s going to be better in the spring,” Rose said. “To me, the players are here now and I would say if we were going to go in the spring, then we shouldn’t have brought the players back two or three weeks ago. We should have allowed them to stay home and do what they were doing, because at least they were playing and doing things. There will be a lot of challenges for certain schools that have larger athletic programs.”
At Penn State, for example, the Nittany Lions have Rec Hall to themselves until late in the season when wrestling begins. In the spring, Rose pointed out, the venue is also home to men’s volleyball and men’s and women’s gymnastics.
“If health and safety and wellness are factors, that’s really hard to say how we would monitor and keep everything clean when you’ve got that sort of scenario. Trying to keep everything clean would be nearly impossible.”
Last season, the Nittany Lions finished 27-6 overall, and at 17-3 tied with Nebraska and Minnesota for second in the Big Ten. Penn State ultimately saw its season end by getting beaten at Stanford in the NCAA regional final for the second straight year. Stanford, of course, went on to win the national title both times.
Rose remains a tireless recruiter who in a normal season would have been a spring-time road warrior.
The new recruiting world “certainly identifies the people who were really active ahead of time a couple of years ahead,” Rose said. “For those people they were ahead of the curve. And for people in large (volleyball) geographical areas they’ve had a chance to see lots of kids. There’s a big advantage for people who are in that situation.
“We had a full schedule planned. It’s a little different. We’re communicating with people but a lot of our recruiting has always been through camps and things like that, so the fact that camps were shut down this year has a bigger impact on the traditional way that we have done recruiting in the past.
“But we’re dealing with the scenario the best we can and that’s what we have to do.”
When Rose was out on the club circuit in February and March, he wasn’t looking at players thinking it was the last time he’d see them in 2020.
“You weren’t looking with the caveat that, hey, this is getting shut down in March so you’d better be working with that in mind,” Rose said. Had they known, Rose said he and his staff would have recruited differently.
Along those lines, Penn State normally would have had elite camps with tremendous attendance.
“We’d have two, three thousand kids over the summer and have the opportunity to work with maybe 20 to 30 kids you’re evaluating that you have high on your list over the next two or three years,” Rose said. “It kind of impacts how you evaluate things heading into the future. We had a lot of kids coming.”
Plus a lot of young players were planning to participate in the USA High Performance Championships this past weekend in nearby Pittsburgh and then visit Penn State for a camp, Rose said.
No doubt that hurt any of the many colleges in the area, including Division I schools Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Robert Morris, and Duquesne, and Division III’s Carnegie Mellon and DIII power Juniata, which, for example, also lost out on holding four camps of its own this summer.
“The High Performance Championships are a major step in USA Volleyball’s Path to the Podium,” it said on the USA Volleyball website. “The event is a coed international tournament held in the United States with the purpose of developing the international game of youth athletes in the country. In 2020, Pittsburgh, Pa., will host the tournament for the first time.
“Approximately 145 USAV HP pipeline teams, region HP teams, and international teams will participate. Previously registered international teams include Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Dominican Republic, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Puerto Rico.”
No camps, no recruiting, no in-person visits with players. It’s certainly a different college volleyball world that would regain some sense of normalcy with a season.
“I don’t want to speak for everyone else, but my thought would be what I’ve heard from other coaches — and I would agree — but everyone’s felt during these challenging times would be to maintain the safety of the players and try to have a season,” Rose said.
“And if we can combine the two things, it’s a win-win. But certainly the most important thing is the first thing. But if we find that we can’t do that, then I don’t think it’s going to happen. The decision’s not going to be made in my office.”