On a day when UConn became the first FBS football program to cancel its season, both Division II and III canceled their respective fall championships, and a group of more than 1,000 players asked the Big Ten conference for more in terms of health and safety reassurances during the pandemic, Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos expressed confidence Nebraska wouldn’t just have players on the field in Memorial Stadium this fall, but fans in the stands.
Lots of them.
During an appearance on the Husker Sports Nightly radio show Wednesday night, Moos was asked what crowd sizes might look like this fall now that Nebraska has clarity on its schedule. Moos said that decision will be left to local health and safety officials.
It was in keeping with comments made by Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren earlier Wednesday morning, citing the Big Ten footprint’s stretch across 11 different states. Each state is its own situation. The league has left the various universities to work out things like crowd size with their local authorities rather than issuing a blanket rule.
Various teams around the league have differing plans. Rutgers has already announced attendance this fall would be capped at 500 people. Ohio State had stated its intention to have 20% capacity for home football games, but an Ohio Department of Health order amendment that went into effect on Aug. 1 prohibited spectators at contact sporting events in the state.
Nebraska is in a different spot. As of Wednesday afternoon, according to 1011 News’ Bill Schammert, the Lincoln/Lancaster county area had a total of 3,215 cases, 17 deaths, and 1,403 recoveries related to the virus. The rate of positive tests returned in the area is on pace to be the lowest its been since June 27.
“I think we’re very fortunate in this regard that we are a low-populated state, that we are a really clean community, the number of positive results from testing is not astronomical, and for those reasons and others, I’m confident that we’re going to be able to have nice crowds in Memorial Stadium,” Moos said Wednesday night.
Current guidelines, Moos said, would cap the attendance at 10,000, or roughly 12% of Memorial Stadium’s capacity. Moos is hopeful Nebraska will be able to exceed that.
“I see there’s good hope we could have considerably more Husker fans attend Husker football,” he said. “It’s important for Nebraska. It’s important for our morale and it’s important for the city of Lincoln.
“We, on average, bring in about $245 million a year into Lincoln, primarily centered around home football games. These are our people, the businesses of Lincoln. We embrace our wonderful partners and we want to see that they are taken care of as well and that they can thrive as best possible.
“And then, of course, our wonderful fans from all over are hungry for Husker football. I wouldn’t be surprised if we could, and hopefully there’s a chance we can, continue our sellout streak with a packed stadium. However it turns out, I know we want to make sure that if at all possible we can get as many of these wonderful, passionate fans we are so known for have an opportunity to get in Memorial Stadium and watch their beloved Huskers this fall.”
Nebraska has sold out its stadium a record 375 consecutive games, a streak that dates back to 1962. The Huskers would like to preserve that. Moos has stated publicly before that if attendance was capped and Nebraska hit that cap, even if the stadium wasn’t full, they would still consider it a sellout.
Nebraska has already announced plans for contactless entry into the stadium via a mobile ticketing system, but Moos was not asked nor did he address whether a mask would be required at games if fans were allowed in. The city of Lincoln has a mask mandate in place for people in public spaces, but people outdoors were initially deemed exempt. It’s unclear if a football home game would fall under the mandate. The Nebraska governor was not a fan of it when announced in mid-July.
“While the governor encourages the use of masks in appropriate situations, he strongly disagrees with the mayor’s decision to mandate masks. This is not a data-driven decision based on the current numbers in Lancaster County at this time,” Gov. Pete Ricketts’ spokesman Taylor Gage said in a statement at the time.
The Huskers open their season on the road against Rutgers on Sept. 5, but the first home game—against Illinois—sits less than 40 days away. A joint statement from Moos and UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green was released in response to the Big Ten’s scheduling announcement Wednesday morning in which the two said a decision on other details, presumably including clearer attendance limits, would be coming “very soon.”
Other News and Notes
>> While some conferences have shifted start dates—the SEC and Pac-12 will begin on Sept. 26, while the Big 12 might yet play on Aug. 29 during Week 0—the Big Ten held to its originally scheduled openers. The games shifted, but Nebraska will still open its season on Sept. 5. That was important to the league in order to maintain structural flexibility moving forward.
“We really felt that if we could target that as our start date, we could have enough flexibility with byes during the season and potentially at the end of the season to address canceled games or postponed games and such,” Moos said. “We very well may not start on Sept. 5, but that’s the plan and I honestly think that most, if not all, will begin competition on that day. But we do have some leeway to call an audible if we need to.”
Nebraska’s bye weeks fall on Oct. 17 and Nov. 7.
>> Once the season begins, the Big Ten will require testing in football and other “high contact” sports to be done, at minimum, twice a week with tests coming no later than three days before the first game of the week. Testing will also be conducted by a third-party lab in-season. Moos said the testing component was talked about in detail “by far the most” in comparison to any other topic.
“To be consistent we felt that a third party was necessary,” he said.
>> Around the same time the league announced its schedule and health guidelines, a collection of Big Ten players published a proposal in the Players’ Tribune calling on the NCAA and the Big Ten to “devise a comprehensive plan to ensure the safety and well-being of players leading up to and during the upcoming fall season.”
Asked what kinds of conversations Moos has had with Nebraska student-athletes regarding concerns raised in that piece, Moos said he’s communicated “on a couple of occasions” with all of NU’s various teams, as have the coaches.
“In my opinion, our student-athletes feel comfortable,” he said. “They understand we’re doing everything we can and are really way out in front in my opinion of putting our protocols together for their safety.”
On Monday, Warren met with two student-athletes from each of the 14 Big Ten schools via Zoom to address and concerns or questions they had about a return to play. Moos said athletic directors were listening on that call.
“It was very helpful, very insightful and I think a good and valuable piece to the decisions that have just been made,” he said. “These are things that need to be talked about. This is a critical time right now with a pandemic and racial events that are unfortunate but need to be addressed and how we can become better, not just as a nation but athletic departments and families, etc. It’s good to discuss these things.
“Hard to believe that all of these ideas and suggestions are going to be answered any time soon, but at least we’ve got a real good feel of what the pulse is out there in college athletics today.”
Nebraska’s team presented a unified front of its own on social media, with more than a dozen players—including team leaders like Adrian Martinez, Dicaprio Bootle, Brenden Jaimes, and Wan’Dale Robinson—tweeting in support of what UNL has done to assure their health is being taken care of. A “We Want To Play Football” hashtag was common throughout the tweets, and most were sent in short order of one another.
“They came here to play. They came here to compete. They came here to enjoy the experience of being a University of Nebraska Husker athlete, and we want to provide that for them while at the same time make sure they are safe, that their health concerns are No. 1 priority for us,” Moos said. “Now we can get going, they know who to prepare for, and we can start making plans for airline charters and hotel rooms and bus contracts. Everybody’s busy and it’s an exciting time once again.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.