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LINCOLN — Nebraska broke 24 hours of quiet tension with the Big Ten on Thursday by affirming its commitment to the prestigious academic conference and agreeing that it would not seek to play any football games this fall in the wake of the Big Ten postponing fall sports until 2021.
NU President Ted Carter and UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green on Thursday morning released a brief, crisp statement reaffirming the university’s commitment to the Big Ten, but it was Husker Athletic Director Bill Moos, talking on the Husker Sports Network on Thursday night, who finally closed the door on any Nebraska plans to build its own schedule.
The Big Ten told NU on Wednesday that it wouldn’t be permissible. Nebraska, which spent that day trying to figure out if it could, has accepted the decision.
“We like the Big Ten,” Moos said. “We’re going to compete in the Big Ten and be successful in the Big Ten. That was a decision made 10 years ago, the decision stands, and our future plans are to compete and be successful in all of our sports programs in this new conference.”
Moos’ comments dovetailed with the statement prepared by Carter and Green.
After Purdue coach Jeff Brohm unveiled his plan, various Big Ten coaches have expressed more optimism at the possibility of spring football and offered their own ideas.
“The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a fully committed member of the Big Ten Conference. It is an unparalleled athletic and academic alliance,” the statement read.
“We have the greatest fans in college athletics. This has been a difficult and disappointing week for the Husker family. We all look forward to the day when we can cheer on our student athletes, on the field and in the arena.”
The Thursday morning statement, a UNL spokesperson said, was sent out in part because “the false ‘leaving-the-Big Ten’ narrative was starting to take a life of its own,” particularly at UNL, where the Faculty Senate sent out a single-question survey Wednesday asking whether professors thought Nebraska should leave the Big Ten so it could play football this fall.
While coach Scott Frost said Monday that Nebraska was a “proud member” of the Big Ten — and the Huskers’ Tuesday statement after the Big Ten’s decision, while full of disappointment, said nothing of leaving the league for the Big 12 or another conference — the national media seemed to take NU’s statement as a threat to bolt the Big Ten, and even World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel asked in Wednesday’s editions if it will be remembered as the beginning of the end of Nebraska and the Big Ten. He answered his own question: “Absolutely.” ESPN personalities — Michael Wilbon and Desmond Howard — suggested that the Big Ten should kick Nebraska out of the league. Howard said Commissioner Kevin Warren should demand an apology from NU.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day briefly joined Nebraska’s cause Wednesday morning, but by Wednesday afternoon OSU A.D. Gene Smith said in a statement that the Buckeyes were focused solely on spring football plans because fall football wasn’t “allowable.” No other league teams — including Iowa, whose in-state rival, Iowa State of the Big 12, remains on track to play football this fall — took up the Huskers’ cause.
UNL's Faculty Senate president said an online poll of UNL professors Wednesday found about 90% of respondents in favor of staying in the Big Ten Conference.
Moos’ comments Thursday night echoed Smith’s statement. In essence, the Big Ten said, it was postponing, not canceling, a season, which limited league members from crafting their own schedules.
“That means hopefully in the spring, or sometime after the first of the calendar year, and that would have made it difficult to still play a series of nonconference games in the fall, and then come back and play a conference season in the spring,” Moos said. “At least that’s how the conference felt. It wasn’t how Scott and I felt. But, at the end of the day, we are proud members of the Big Ten, it’s a prestigious conference, and we will be in compliance.”
As of Thursday, the ACC, Big 12 and SEC remain on track to play this fall with modified schedules, as do several leagues like Conference USA and the American Athletic Conference. The College Football Playoff — chaired, ironically, by Iowa A.D. Gary Barta — plans a postseason for the teams remaining in action.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten reportedly got to work on a 2021 plan Wednesday. Purdue coach Jeff Brohm submitted his own plan Thursday morning that starts in late February and accommodates a shortened fall season that would start in October. Day was looking for a plan that started the first week of January — with training camp in December — and allows for a regular fall season to be played.
Having time between a 2021 spring and fall season would be critical, an ex-Husker football coach said Wednesday, to making any kind of plan work. And Mike Riley would know.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said Thursday he supports Carter and Green’s position that the university should stay in the Big Ten.
“I support them 100%,” Ricketts said. “The Big Ten has been great for the University of Nebraska, and obviously there’s a lot of considerations that go into this.
“I know that fans would like to see football games. So would I. The Big Ten has made the decision they’re not going to do football games.”
Thursday afternoon, NU sent to season ticket holders a one-week extension on a questionnaire related to season ticket rollovers.
“The Big Ten has postponed all athletic events for the Fall 2020, including football,” the email read in part. Nebraska also told season ticket holders in the email that it will “reach out for additional feedback when we have more details about a possible spring season.”
Moos said the financial hit to Nebraska athletics — should no football season be played — was $100 million. His senior administrators were in a conference room as he spoke trying to figure out how to deal with the deficit, although some income may be recouped if league football is played in the winter.
Nebraska’s concern for the financial health of its athletic department, coupled with knowing the local Lincoln economy may take a $300 million hit, came out in Frost’s passionate Monday speech imploring the Big Ten not to cancel its fall sports so quickly.
“How he has handled this, and what his priorities have been, is what he’s all about,” Moos said. “I watched him, listened to that, and never have I ever been in doubt that he’s the right guy leading this football program.”