The other day, FOX Sports’ Joel Klatt, one of the more trusted names in the college football-sphere, tweeted there is a 100% chance football is played this fall. The NCAA just last week lifted the moratorium on voluntary workouts for student-athletes, paving the way for them to return to campuses around the country.
It seems we’ve reached our answer to the “will they play” question. Plenty still has to be worked out, obviously, but where the focus now seems to have shifted toward is a new question: “Will we watch?”
So, Bill, what do you think?
“I’m optimistic,” said Nebraska’s Athletic Director, Bill Moos, on the Husker Sports Nightly radio show Tuesday night. “I continue to think there's a good chance it could be football as we remember it.”
Moos is careful to couch that optimism with the cold, hard reality that there’s a lot of work left to be done before state officials and university chancellors and presidents sign off on fans in attendance. Because those will be the ones making decisions on things.
He said staffers are working to come up with road maps for how to handle entry to and exit from facilities, how to handle concessions, whether to go with masks or not, etc.
There are a number of concerns that Moos said need clearly-defined answers before things can start truly returning to normal.
“If we can’t get our arms around this virus and get it to level out to where the concerns of the fans but also the student-athletes and what is safe for those people… if that is still in question, the season could look different than we’ve experienced in the past,” Moos said. “We just aren’t quite there yet. We just don’t know.
“As our backs get closer to the wall, we’re going to have to make some decisions along those lines, whether to reduce the number of games, maybe move the entire season back, what our lead-up time should be? … I’m hopeful that it’ll look like it has but I’m not sure.”
Moos is of the belief that Nebraska is one of the safer spots in the region in terms of its relative insulation from the virus. Spread-out cities, lighter population density. “We’re not a real hotbed for COVID-19,” he said, and for that reason, Moos said he’s been pressing the Big Ten conference on allowing student-athletes to return to campus for some time.
“I was taking the stance with the Big Ten that the safest place for our athletes is Lincoln, Nebraska, and the safest place in Lincoln is to be in our facilities,” he said.
Nebraska has players from Florida and California and places where the hometown environment might be potentially riskier than it would be in Lincoln.
The Athletic Director said 150-175 student-athletes are already on campus. On June 1, those who aren’t will be allowed to change that. The priority will be given to football and men’s and women’s basketball, with volleyball and women’s soccer to follow.
Workouts for athletes once they return are on a voluntary basis. Normally that distinction is met with an eye roll, but this year might mandate more flexibility.
“We do need to be patient,” Moos said. “We need to fold these things back in in the proper manner.”
Nebraska’s protocol—one it worked in consultation with the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha and Dr. Chris Kratochvil to create—involves questionnaires and quarantining student-athletes for 48 hours upon return to campus. Dr. Kratochvil is chairing the Big Ten’s Task Force for Emerging Infectious Disease, so the protocol he and Nebraska have worked up, Moos said, is one that’s being copied by other institutions throughout the conference.
Moos said some on staff aren’t yet comfortable coming back. UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green has set a stipulation for now and into June that no more than one-third of all the department’s staffers can be in Memorial Stadium at any one time.
On Thursday, Moos said, he’ll meet with his various coaches to address any questions they have.
When workouts do begin for student-athletes, the groupings have to be in 10 or less, including supervisors or instructors on the field or in the weight room. Remember last year when head coach Scott Frost mentioned strength coach Zach Duval was being run a little ragged by those same offseason workouts. The current weight room can comfortably support groups of 40 as is. It’s one of the reasons Nebraska football has sought a new space for its weight training.
(That facility, the $155 million Go Big project, has been paused, Moos said. Design of the spaces is set to be finalized within the next week, Moos said, and then Nebraska will sit on the “launchpad” while it awaits the all-clear from UNL officials to begin construction. Moos said fundraising is “solid.” Before the pandemic, Nebraska was set to break ground in June with a target of 2022 for completion.)
All that said, Moos is an optimist by nature. He says he likes to make lemonade with the lemons he’s given. His most eyeball-emoji-worthy remarks came after rolling through the laundry list of barriers to putting butts in seats this season.
If they can do it, he’d like to see Memorial Stadium with some real noise instead of the piped-in sound the other football is using across the pond.
“Personally, I don’t feel (attendance caps are) a conference rule or an NCAA rule. I think that’s an institutional policy. If we feel here in Nebraska, just like I felt all along, that it’s the best place for our student-athletes and it’s the safest and we feel that our fans fully know the risks—if there are any—of attending our events and they’re fine with that, they ought to be able to come and enjoy Nebraska football and volleyball and all of our sports.
“We’re very concerned about the safety and such of our fans, but if we feel and our university and state authorities feel that it’s safe, then I feel we should go the max of whatever’s allowable.”
Either way, the sellout will be preserved.
“If we are told, for example, we can only have 30,000 in Memorial Stadium and we get 30,000, that’s a sellout,” Moos said.