This just in: Nebraska football is picked to finish fourth in the Big Ten West.
Seems a little high, but that sounds good.
That is, the Huskers are picked to finish the season. Hallelujah.
Now, about that start.
Don’t look now, but we are less than a week away from the first day of Nebraska football practice. It is set to begin on Friday, and it’s like waiting for Christmas to arrive.
Please don’t tell me Santa has COVID-19.
All I want for Christmas is to talk about Adrian Martinez, the offensive line, Erik Chinander and the Minnesota game.
Right now, I’d be willing to talk about Illinois and Purdue.
They say there’s no cheering in the press box, but that’s only for normal years. I’m rooting like mad for a football season, any football season.
There’s a ridiculous notion that the sports media are rooting against the return of sports. That’s moronic.
When we report on the latest news in the pandemic and update the numbers of positive cases, good trend or bad, that’s what we do. It’s our job. Not our agenda.
All these years they’ve said I was too negative. But now we’re all rooting for negative, as in tests.
We’re all rooting for football and it’s anything but selfish. The sentiment is layered.
Cheering for football is Nebraskans cheering for Nebraskans.
It’s pulling hard for the Nebraska athletic budget. It’s hoping that games can be played so money can be made and jobs and sports can be spared.
Yes, the NU department, like many in college athletics, is slightly bloated from years of spending and an excessive lifestyle. We can get to that later.
But no football means jobs and sports likely get eliminated. That’s your neighbor, and you’re neighbor’s kid, the one who wants to play sports at Nebraska.
Cheering for a football season is pulling for the Lincoln economy. Each NU home game means more than $5 million to the city of Lincoln. Take away six or seven of those and say goodbye to several of your favorite bars, restaurants and shops.
The financial hit of no football would be felt throughout the state. There’s a saying: Nebraska football winning is good for business.
No football? Don’t ask.
And don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about these sentiments.
Athletic directors like Bill Moos should not be afraid to tell the truth: They need to play football to save their budgets, jobs and sports. Big-time college sports is about money. Duh.
There’s no reason to pretend a college football season in 2020 would be about anything else. No shame in that.
And no guilt in wanting football to return because you love it, because it enriches your life and is good food for the soul.
Rooting for football does not mean you want a distraction. Heavens, there’s no such thing.
The coronavirus is everywhere we look, all of the time. It’s as plain as the mask on your face.
Cheering for a football season does not mean you don’t care if people get sick. It doesn’t mean we are flippant about the impact, the number of dead, all the sorrow and despair.
We root for football, but we also root for a vaccine and available hospital beds and everyone to wear masks and show the virus some respect.
These things are not mutually exclusive.
Last week, I sat in my car and listened as the “Sports Nightly” radio show brought on beat writers from Big Ten teams to talk football. It was wonderful. For a brief time, I was thinking about the actual coaches and players and not whether there would be games.
When it was over, I put on my mask and went outside.
Hoping for a football season does not mean we approve of putting young men at risk. It means we approve of a return to the field with all proper health protocols and precautions in place.
It means we’re cheering for face masks under the helmets or the hard-cover shields that some coaches are ordering to work.
After reading Mike Sautter’s analysis of high school football in The World-Herald, I root for a high school season, too, and a chance for some young men to maintain the structure and guidance they need.
Right now I’m rooting for the leaders of the Big Ten to give the green light next week.
A letter from Commissioner Kevin Warren to league athletic directors left open the possibility of canceling the season. That’s very much on the table.
Last week, the ACC announced its plan to move forward with football. The Pac-12 actually released a schedule. It had USC vs. UCLA in Week 1. It got the pulse going.
That doesn’t mean the Big Ten will act accordingly. If we know anything about this old-world league, it’s that the Big Ten does not follow anyone. It sets its own course.
But now these conference administrators may not be in charge of their fate. ESPN reported a group of Pac-12 football players are threatening to opt out of preseason practice and games until their concerns about pandemic safety and racial injustice are met.
Meanwhile, a group of SEC football players also expressed concerns about playing this season to league administrators.
Schools are going to have to show athletes that safety precautions are in place and even that won’t be enough. Some will choose to opt out. Some schools may choose to opt out of this football season.
Everyone must do what’s in their best interests. Safety first.
The web gets more tangled. If conference seasons are impacted, I hope schools that still want to play are able to become independents for one year. This fall might mean a return to 1918, when Nebraska was able to line up six games amid the Spanish flu pandemic.
If a shortened exhibition season meant Nebraska fans could have some football and the athletic department and local budgets could get a boost, hand me the pom-poms.
I want national health. I want schools to open. I want football to be played. That’s an ambitious Christmas list.
Dear Santa: Be safe.
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