LINCOLN — The thought had clearly crossed the mind of Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos.
What if Nebraska’s starting quarterback was out with an injury, and the next two quarterbacks had COVID-19 and were out for the next 21 days, and, on top of that, NU’s head coach, Scott Frost, had tested positive, as well, and couldn’t coach at least one game?
Would Nebraska have played in those circumstances? If the team hadn’t yet hit the Big Ten’s “red/red” designation that mandates a seven-day shutdown?
“Yup,” Moos said Saturday. “If we were able to play through the regulations that had been set, if we didn’t hit (red/red), I have every reason to believe we’d play. That’s how it’s spelled out. That would have been approved at a level above me, but as far as I’m concerned and Scott’s concerned, we’d play. And that goes back to the players. They want to play, they should play, they’re losing opportunities that they’ve dreamt of and worked hard for.
“If we were within the boundaries of guidelines of what has been established by the presidents and chancellors, I would make every case that we should play. And if we didn’t, we should forfeit.”
At the time Wisconsin canceled its game with NU, on Wednesday, the Badgers weren’t yet in red/red — UW Athletic Director Barry Alvarez said the program was in orange/red designation that allowed the Badgers the discretion to cancel the game, which they did.
As Wisconsin revealed, by Saturday, that at least 22 players and staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus, Moos said he believed Wisconsin probably hit the red/red designation. He also appreciated Alvarez’s transparency in the days leading up to Wisconsin’s decision — led by UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank — to cancel the NU game. Alvarez called Moos early Wednesday morning with the news.
“His name popped up, it’s a Madison area code, so I figured that’s what it was about,” Moos said. “Barry’s been around the game all his life — he’s got good etiquette and class. Not everybody would make that call these days.”
Wisconsin making the decision as early as it did may not only have preserved a small chance at the Badgers hosting Purdue next week, but it freed up NU to find, on the shortest of notice, a nonconference opponent for the weekend. Nebraska had the same list it curated back in August — when, for a brief time, the Huskers attempted to craft an alternate schedule after the Big Ten appeared to shut down football for the fall — and Tennessee-Chattanooga was at the top of the list. The Mocs had conducted PCR tests on Wednesday — Moos wasn’t entirely sure if the tests were prompted by NU’s interest in playing, or simply done as a matter of process — and were prepared to make the trip.
Now, the league simply had to approve the move.
Nebraska wanted to make its case directly to Big Ten presidents and chancellors vs. having Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren float the idea via email. Warren, Moos said, was amenable to UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green pitching the idea to his colleagues in a regularly scheduled Thursday morning call among the leaders of the league.
Moos wasn’t on the Zoom call. Green told Moos the discussion was “thorough,” and any representation otherwise — that the presidents and chancellors dismissed the suggestion out of hand — is inaccurate.
But the answer, ultimately, was no.
“If you’re not persistent, you’ll never know,” Moos said of NU’s request, noting that he believed requesting to play Tennessee-Chattanooga now represented a “different circumstance” than it did in August. “My feeling was: Hey, we’ve made great strides in playing at all based on the testing piece. And I felt — and many others did — that (a game cancellation) was going to happen, and just, luck of the draw, we were first. So we’ve set the precedent. Coming out of the meeting with presidents and chancellors, it was, ‘this is the precedent, don’t anybody come back to us again.’ ”
Unless it’s basketball. There, the Big Ten has already approved the league’s participation in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge — games were announced Friday — and is widely expected to approve that league schools can play in and host their own multiteam events featuring schools from multiple conferences. Moos said the league is working through conversations about testing protocols now.
Why are basketball and football different?
“Probably the numbers, but that’s just speculation,” Moos said, referring to roster sizes in football and basketball. “But that’s the other piece — we’re talking openly and positively about a nonconference basketball season for men and women. So if there was no problem with that, maybe we had a chance (in football). That was one of the reasons I was hopeful. It could have been Indiana or Michigan State. It’s just the fact that we were first.”
The Big Ten won’t be revisiting that decision. Might it reconsider the 21-day mandatory sit-out rule for each player who tests positive for COVID-19? Alvarez has said in multiple media interviews that the league should look at the timeframe based on a new medical paper that suggests myocarditis — inflammation of the heart — is not a frequent issue among adults in the age range of most college student-athletes.
“Are we going to coming back on the 21-day issue? The timing on it might not be real good,” said Moos, who wants to revisit the issue but noted, too, that the presidents and chancellors gave the Big Ten a reboot in large part because of strict protocol league doctors presented to them. “I’m not saying it won’t be considered by the A.D.s to make an attempt. I think it’ll be discussed among A.D.s. Whether it gets legs or not, I’m not sure.”