LINCOLN — Those dreams Nebraska’s high school football players have of playing for state titles in Memorial Stadium won’t happen this year.
The championship games have to be played on high school fields.
The Nebraska School Activities Association on Friday night announced that all state championship games will be played Friday, Nov. 20. In each class, the higher-seeded team will host the contest.
NSAA Executive Director Jay Bellar told The World-Herald that the rental cost for Memorial Stadium could not be justified given attendance restrictions from the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department. That agency, he said, also preferred not having people from 12 communities in town for the finals.
He said initially the health department decided each of the six games planned for the stadium on Nov. 23 and 24 could have 1,000 fans per team, but that amount was put in doubt by Gov. Pete Ricketts’ announcement Friday that high school and college sports may have to drastically curtail attendance amid higher COVID-19 numbers.
Memorial Stadium has hosted the state football playoff finals since 1996. Before that, the championship games were played at home sites.
The stadium also sits virtually empty for Nebraska’s home football games, the result of a Big Ten attendance ban save for family members.
In another development Friday involving the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department, all youth sports in Lancaster County — including high schools — are suspended for three weeks through Dec. 6.
Ricketts on Friday announced new directed health measures based on the rate of hospital bed usage for COVID-19 patients. As of Thursday night, there were 905 COVID-19 patients in Nebraska hospitals. That equals 20% of staffed beds, Ricketts said.
Lancaster County’s no-sports action went a step further than the new measures from the governor.
High school activities can continue, Ricketts announced, but he mentioned the possibility of further restrictions should the state enter the red 25% category based on a 14-day rolling average of bed usage. At that threshold, youth extracurricular activities below the high school level — school and club teams — would be prohibited. Also, college sporting events would be restricted to staff and only immediate family members.
It will take only getting to the 20% threshold, the governor said, for attendance at high school sports events to be restricted to household members with 6 feet of separation.
Lancaster County’s bed usage hit 25% on Friday, it was announced.
The college restrictions could affect the 16-team Golden Window men’s basketball tournament planned for Pinnacle Bank Arena and hosted by Nebraska later this month.
Also impacted could be the National Collegiate Hockey Conference series of season-opening games in Omaha in December. When the conference announced its plans last month, it had not decided whether fans would be allowed.
Omaha World-Herald: Nebraska Prep Zone
All the latest updates for Nebraska High School sports