LINCOLN — A hot mic caught University of Nebraska President Ted Carter on a hot topic Tuesday morning: the return of Big Ten football this fall.
Before the announcement of NU’s five-year, $92 million research deal for the school’s National Strategic Research Institute, Carter was caught on an open microphone saying that the Big Ten would soon announce the return of football season this fall.
“We’re getting ready to announce Husker, Big Ten football tonight,” Carter said. A moment later, Carter added that the decision was a “good move in the right direction.”
Interviewed by Lincoln TV station KLKN afterward, Carter said his comments were “picked up a little out of context.”
“All I said is, ‘There’s work going on,’ and I remain cautiously optimistic — like everybody else — that we’ll get to discovering when it’s safe to play,” Carter said.
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Ultimately, a much-anticipated announcement from the Big Ten didn’t happen Tuesday as coaches, players, athletic departments and fans were left to wait at least one more day for resolution since the league made the decision Aug. 11 to postpone fall sports. Official Twitter accounts of multiple Big Ten football teams depicted players waiting anxiously, including an Ohio State player nervously shaking his leg.
The league in the past week has been reconsidering its move to postpone football. Multiple reports suggest that Oct. 17 is the target date for a return to competition. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Tuesday that the league had approved a proposal to play its season this fall. Teams would play eight games in a nine-week span, with the league title game tentatively set for Dec. 19 — one day before the College Football Playoff announces its four-team field.
Carter is not Nebraska’s representative on the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors. That responsibility falls on Chancellor Ronnie Green.
When asked if the Big Ten was scheduled to announce the return of football Tuesday evening, Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos said he didn’t know.
According to a UNL spokesperson, “When there is any news to share or confirm regarding any Big Ten board decision, it will be announced by the Big Ten. Chancellor Green and A.D. Moos will comment at that time.”
Also on Tuesday, University of Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank, who is on the Big Ten council, said the conference postponed football over concerns about effective contact tracing and the potential for athletes who had the virus to develop heart inflammation.
“Once we have answers to that and to some of those issues and things, that we have ways to deal with them effectively, we will try and plan a delayed season,” Blank said. Her comments came during a congressional hearing related to federal oversight of name, image, likeness compensation for the NCAA.
The decision to return to competition would come roughly one month after Big Ten university leaders voted 11-3 to postpone all fall sports, including football. At the time, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren cited the number of medical uncertainties and the amateur status of student-athletes as driving factors. Shortly after the Big Ten voted to postpone in August, the Pac-12 followed suit.
The ACC, Big 12 and SEC did not postpone their seasons, though. And in the days after the Big Ten’s decision, Nebraska and Ohio State publicly pushed back. Both, in the face of national media criticism, attempted to lobby for playing their own schedules. The Big Ten wouldn’t allow it, so parents and players from both schools got vocal.
One OSU parent led a protest at Big Ten headquarters in Chicago, and Buckeye quarterback Justin Fields launched an online petition to play this fall signed by hundreds of thousands. OSU coach Ryan Day, whose team was ranked No. 2 in the preseason Associated Press poll, has been consistently vocal in his desire to play.
A group of Husker parents wrote a letter to Warren and secured a lawyer — Mike Flood, who is running this fall for election to the Nebraska Legislature — to pursue legal action against the Big Ten. Eight Nebraska players sued for more information, forcing the Big Ten to disclose the vote tally. And on Friday, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said in a three-page letter to the league that the Big Ten may be out of compliance with the Nebraska Nonprofit Corporations Act.
Peterson’s letter is more evidence that the state — from Gov. Pete Ricketts through NU’s academic administration down to program walk-ons — has been in lockstep about playing football this fall. Nebraska’s athletic department even purchased 1,200 antigen test kits from Quidel that can accommodate two teams.
Coupled with the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department’s increased allowance for 30,000 people in outdoor venues, it seemed clear NU was preparing for the possibility of hosting games with fans this fall.
Husker coach Scott Frost, in a Sept. 6 interview with The World-Herald, said he could have his team ready in three weeks. In accordance with NCAA rules, NU has been practicing multiple times per week in helmets to stay fresh in case fall football got the go-ahead.