Updated: Aug 14, 2020
Head Football Coach Scott Frost and the University of Nebraska administration did go down swinging this week. But at least in the process we can see the return of college athletics in the not too distant future.
Since around March 15 there has been the realization that college football faced the toughest odds in the pandemic year of 2020. Rosters of more than 80 players practicing daily in close contact along with facing opponent on Saturday, along with tens of thousands attending and tailgating under current social distancing protocols is all but impossible.
Living in Lincoln, I realized that many in Husker Nation have not been ready to accept that realization. In May I had a conversation with someone optimistic that there would be a season, and that staff at the Nebraska Innovation Campus was feverishly working to roll out a vaccine well in advance of the football season.
I was actually told that, and it proved to be predictably wishful thinking. No doubt dozens of institutions worldwide continue to look for a cure or at least a vaccination or treatment for COVID-19. The more immediate issue is adapting and living in a world where coronavirus, at least for now, is a fact of life.
Worldwide, the pandemic continues to escalate and new cases have approached 300,000 daily in the past month. Fatalities have leveled off somewhat from alarming levels this past April-May but even in the second week of August deaths have hovered around the ‘one per minute’ mark of 1,440 per day in the United States.
The good news is that society along with sports have made steps towards a return. Professional basketball and hockey made its return in designated bubble venues while Major League Baseball and now Major League Soccer have resumed play at home and away venues, albeit with hiccups. The National Football League is also working to embark on its scheduled 2020 season and will likely serve as a guideline for other sports and entertainment going forward.
From elementary schools to colleges, the education system also continues to grapple with how to handle operations so students, parents and educators can all feel comfortable with a return to actual classrooms.
Colleges are where education, athletics, politics and social agendas collide. With that in mind it is no surprise that the decisions being made by athletic conferences this week have been so hotly contested.
I feel the emotions coming out of Nebraska. I see many of the same qualities in Nebraska’s fan base as following the Green Bay Packers in the 1970s/1980s - a very loyal group of supporters who continue to fill the stadium yearning for the program to reclaim the championship-level dominance of past generations.
The Big Ten’s decision to postpone all fall sports also impacts Nebraska women’s volleyball, especially with the 2020 Championship scheduled this year for Omaha.
Scott Frost’s comments on potentially working out a football season was criticized, most notably from ESPN’s Desmond Howard, who suggested Nebraska be kicked out of the Big Ten. It is not the first time the former Heisman Trophy winner has been outspoken on television.
By Thursday morning UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green and University President Ted Carter, officially ended talk of playing outside the Big Ten, providing a social media statement on a scarlet background that Nebraska remains a “fully committed member of the Big Ten Conference” and looks forward to when the school can once again cheer on student-athletes.
It would not be like separating heaven and earth if something could be found for Nebraska and the University of West Virginia to simply swap conferences. Many look at Nebraska as more of a I-29/I-35 belt school than a midwest institution. It is also known the Big Ten enjoys the Manifest Destiny footprint of fans stretching from North Platte to the Eastern seaboard.
That said, three Big XII Universities (Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State) reside within a 3-4 hour drive of Lincoln. Husker football can also resume an annual rivalry with the University of Oklahoma and add four Texas schools to the yearly slate. Just as important, all other Big XII members would be within easy driving distance.
For West Virginia’s part, they would gain regional rivals Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers and Ohio State and the Big Ten improves its Eastern Division.
In such a scenario Nebraska likely takes a hit in terms of television contracts but very much remain a Power Five school.
Brigham Young University also gets credit for going far beyond the call of duty trying to pull off any semblance of a 2020 football season. As an independent, BYU lost 10 of its 12 originally scheduled opponents as other schools cancelled non-conference play or saw their seasons postponed. That leaves the Cougars for now with a slate featuring Houston, North Alabama and a game set up days ago against the United States Naval Academy. There are also hopes of adding potential games against Notre Dame or other Atlantic Coast Conference opponents.
The uncertainty has not stopped BYU from full practices in Provo with every intention of playing Navy on Labor Day night come heck or high water. The teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in regards to survival and emergency preparedness have been on full display from the athletic department.
Obviously, the state of the 2020-21 college football season remains fluid. At this writing the ACC, Big XII and Southeastern Conferences all intend on competing this fall. Or maybe all conferences come to a consensus and postpone their seasons until after the New Year. Or maybe the end game is the complete cancellation of FBS football for one year, under that ‘Armageddon’ scenario players lose eligibility and schools and conferences lose billions, but fans and advertisers save billions for a year. It is a balance ledger type of deal.
After all, it is just money. Lives and safety are infinitely more important and brighter days are indeed on the way.