Even by Penn State’s recent standards, this one is bizarre.
Concern continues to mount over the status of the volcano Bardarbunga as Icelandic officials raised the aviation alert to its highest level (imminent eruption) on Saturday.
Not exactly your typical preseason college football bulletin.
The Nittany Lions, of course, are scheduled to leave Tuesday for Dublin, Ireland, to take on UCF in Saturday’s season opener. The issue is that one of the worst-case scenarios is that massive amounts of ash in the atmosphere could restrict or even ground air travel to and from Northern Europe.
It’s a serious enough situation — particularly for fans who have purchased expensive travel packages to fly overseas for the game — that Penn State issued a statement Saturday saying that the school has not changed any of its plans for the game.
“Over the past several days we have been talking with officials from UCF, the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) and United Airlines, our charter provider,” the school said in a release. “We continue to monitor the situation and maintain regular communication with all appropriate parties.
“The safety and welfare of our student-athletes, staff and fans will be at the forefront throughout our discussions. At this time, we are continuing our preparations for the game and for the team to depart Tuesday evening for Dublin.”
Much of the hand-wringing comes from the memory a similar event just four years ago. The eruption of a different, even more unpronounceable Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajokull, in 2010 left millions of travelers stranded for days, and in some cases, even weeks because of the lingering ash.
Penn State has its home opener scheduled for the following Saturday.
Adding another layer of complexity to the situation, these volcanoes are located underneath glaciers, so it’s not always readily apparent when an eruption is beginning.
A volcanologist working in Iceland told The Associated Press that seismic data indicated that an eruption had begun Saturday, but there was no visual confirmation that any magma had broken through the ice.
“The thicker the ice, the more water there is, the more explosive it will be and the more ash-rich the eruption will be,” Melissa Pfeffer said.
It’s possible, Pfeffer said, that it never erupts through the glacier. And if it does, it’s also possible that the resulting ash affects a much smaller area and does not disrupt travel to Ireland.
For Penn State and UCF, there’s not much to do at this point but watch and wait.
“In all my life, I never worry about things that I have no control over,” Knights coach George O’Leary said Saturday to reporters in Orlando. “I have no control over a volcano, electricity, hurricanes. I don’t worry about them.
“We have alternative plans. If that occurs, then that’s something that occurs. You can’t fly, you can’t fly. Right now we’re getting ready to hit somebody else and get to Ireland.”
Asked if those contingency plans could include moving the game to Orlando or State College, O’Leary deadpanned, “I think we’ll move it to Iceland.”
If Penn State and UCF are going to play this year, it almost certainly would have to be on Saturday. The two teams don’t share an open date this year until the second weekend in December. The annual Army-Navy game is traditionally the only FBS game to be held that date, a full week after the major conferences hold their championship games.
All in all, it’s not exactly something James Franklin had planned for when he took the Penn State job in January.
“Just how I would have drawn it up for us to start,” The Lions coach joked Thursday on his weekly radio show. “To fly to a foreign country, to get through customs and take on a volcano.”