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After nearly a month without a schedule, Nebraska finally has a tentative road map for navigating the Big Ten in 2020.
Days and weeks of behind-the-scenes deliberations within the conference culminated in the release of the football schedule Wednesday morning. The Big Ten will move to a 10-game, league-only slate in which each team adds a new cross-divisional opponent.
The Huskers will maintain their season-opening date of Sept. 5 but will now travel to Rutgers for that contest instead of the previously scheduled home game against Purdue. NU adds a new opponent in Michigan State — set to come to Lincoln on Nov. 21 — and has bye weeks Oct. 17 and Nov. 7. The home debut at Memorial Stadium is against Illinois on Sept. 12.
The rest of Nebraska’s schedule includes Wisconsin (Sept. 19), at Iowa (Sept. 26), Minnesota (Oct. 3), at Ohio State (Oct. 10), at Northwestern (Oct. 24), Penn State (Oct. 31) and at Purdue (Nov. 14).
Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos said the league had “different degrees of enthusiasm” about the start date, which spurred delays along the way. But he said Wednesday he’s pleased with where it landed.
“There were some delays,” Moos said. “But still, I felt — and it was generally the feeling of the group — that we need to get this established and a schedule that has some flexibility to move and change depending on where the pandemic is and who can and can’t play on any given Saturday.”
Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said flexibility to weather inevitable challenges presented by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic was priority No. 1 in crafting the new schedule. It provides the ability to move back the start of the season to Sept. 12, 19 or 26 through strategic sequences that allows games to be shifted to a latter part of the schedule. For example, Nebraska shares a Week 7 bye with its Weeks 3-5 opponents of Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota.
Nebraska, Wisconsin and Purdue swapped home dates with each other. NU will play at Purdue for a second straight year, Wisconsin visits the Huskers and the Boilermakers play at Wisconsin. Moos liked how that arrangement fell.
“We’ll take Wisconsin three years in a row,” Moos said with a chuckle, though he doesn’t know what the 2021 schedule might look like.
Games can be collapsed into bye weeks as needed and all schools have a scheduled bye week Nov. 28 following regular-season finales Nov. 21.
“This will not be a straight line this year,” Warren said on Big Ten Network. “We’ve released the schedule, but we’ve done it in the context of we have to plan ahead.”
Warren also confirmed Wednesday the league will stick with its original plan to open traditional fall camp Friday.
The Big Ten released its 10-game schedule Wednesday morning. Sam McKewon has nine takes on Nebraska’s slate and the rest of the league's plans.
Six league programs already have halted offseason workouts at some point amid positive COVID-19 tests. Rutgers reported an outbreak of 28 players and staffers earlier this week, and Northwestern stopped practice Monday after a positive test. Michigan State, Indiana, Maryland and Ohio State have had to suspend activities at times.
The biggest game in terms of television ratings on the Big Ten schedule, Michigan at Ohio State, will move up to Oct. 24 from its traditional place at the end of the regular season. Other key rivalries include Penn State at Michigan (Sept. 19), Minnesota at Wisconsin (Sept. 26) and Ohio State at Penn State (Nov. 7). The league title game remains scheduled for Dec. 5 at Lucas Oil Stadium, though it could be moved to as late as Dec. 19.
Ohio State at Illinois will open the season Thursday, Sept. 3, followed by Indiana at Wisconsin on Sept. 4 before the rest of the league starts Sept. 5.
“We’re approaching this entire process on a day-to-day basis,” Warren said.
Moos said Warren, in his first year as commissioner, was “hit” with an “unprecedented crisis” fewer than 60 days into his tenure after replacing former Big Ten boss Jim Delany.
“He’s done a very good job of organizing his staff and delegating to them,” Moos said. “I think the meetings — we’ve had over 100 of them — have been very well-facilitated and fabulous dialogue. The commissioner — as he should be — has been overly cautious. He’s very, very much a proponent of the student-athlete and their safety and well-being. That should be comforting for parents and families and student-athletes themselves.”
The Big Ten's schedule release provides a plan for football season, but Tom Shatel writes now it's time for the hard part — actually getting these games played.
In a release, the Big Ten also warned that “issuing a schedule does not guarantee that competition will occur,” adding it is prepared to delay or cancel competition in compliance with local or state public health orders. Multiple high-profile Big Ten players have already opted out of the season or are reportedly considering doing so, including Minnesota’s 1,000-yard receiver Rashod Bateman and Penn State linebacker and preseason defensive player of the year Micah Parsons. Meanwhile, some Pac-12 players have gathered and issued a list of demands before they return to play, citing inequities and safety concerns.
A group of Big Ten players on Wednesday also announced changes they wanted to see, mostly based around safety protocols. Numerous Nebraska players made a clear statement in the afternoon as they tweeted out support with “#WeWantToPlayFootball” for measures their school has taken to keep them healthy.
“Nebraska has done a great job of doing things the right way and has protected us players,” quarterback Adrian Martinez wrote. “We’ll find a way to play here!”
Nebraska Chancellor Ronnie Green and Moos issued a statement following the release as well. They acknowledged the “tremendous amount of consultation” that went into the process — BTN reported that A.D.s have had 103 Zoom calls or conference calls since canceling the men’s basketball tournament in March — and expressed optimism for the 2020 campaign.
The next step, they said, is finalizing the many details and protocols for football games at Memorial Stadium. NU has yet to announce how or how many fans will be able to attend home contests this fall.
“The top priority remains to conduct a football season in the safest and healthiest manner possible for everyone involved,” the statement read. “There are still many steps ahead before we can take the field in September, beginning with opening preseason camp later this week. But there is no question this is an exciting day at Nebraska. Our players and coaching staff now have a schedule in front of them, and Husker fans can see how the 2020 season will unfold.”
The Big Ten was the last of the Power Five leagues to announce its plan for the football season. The Big 12 will start in mid- to late-September with nine conference games and one out of conference. The SEC and Pac-12 are set for 10-game, league-only slates beginning Sept. 26. The ACC said on July 29 it would go to 10 league games and one nonconference (played in the same state as member schools) starting the week of Sept. 7-12.