Most of Nebraska’s football team is in Lincoln. In fact, you’d be able to count the ones who aren’t on “one or two hands,” head coach Scott Frost said Tuesday during a Zoom conference call with reporters. Nebraska was fine allowing kids to stay away if they or their families felt home was safer than Lincoln.
“This whole time the player’s safety has been our first priority,” Frost said. “The community and state’s safety is just as big a priority. And one thing we’ve been careful to do is not make it mandatory for anybody to do anything.”
For the last three-ish months, the head football coach’s time has been split between actual football and all the modeling, road-mapping, revising, and re-revising the COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it for the sports world. “It seems like every two days we look up and there’s a different ruling, a different mandate,” Frost said.
Nebraska was one of the first major Division I programs in the country to bring back its entire team. In doing so, it had to track where every single member of its 150-plus-player roster had been, who they’d been in regular contact with, when they were planning on returning to campus, how they were getting back, where they were staying when they arrived and who they were staying with.
And without any summer access to players, it’s been like piecemeal. Frost mentioned on several occasions how thankful he was to chief of staff Gerrod Lambrecht, strength coach Zach Duval, and assistant strength coach Andrew Strop for the job they’ve done in handling the logistics he couldn’t. Because Nebraska felt like returning on June 1, the earliest date allowed by the NCAA, was going to give them the best chance to mitigate some of the damage dealt by the lost spring practices for a young team.
“I’m grateful because I do think it’s going to be a help to us to be back earlier,” he said. Frost added local state and health officials have been open to them “pushing the envelope a little bit” on allowing everyone to return when they did.
“What’s been interesting about this virus and everything we’ve gone through with it is I think there have been inherent advantages and disadvantages that have gone all through this. Getting your kids back to campus could certainly be an advantage, but there are schools that had all 15 spring practices and we got two. There are schools in our league that had a dozen or more and we’ve had two. Certainly, the recruiting (aspect) isn’t tilted in our favor. We have to get kids to Lincoln, Nebraska, to see it because we’re recruiting kids from farther away than a lot of other people. Without the ability to get kids to Lincoln, it’s made recruiting more of a challenge to us than some people maybe in areas with more recruits.
“There’s been advantages and disadvantages that were probably unintentional all through this thing. Right when it started, I think we did a good job getting ahead, putting our heads together, and figuring out how to get our team back to campus safely for them and safely for the community. I think we’re a little ahead of the curve on that. But any advantage we get there, we need because I don’t think we’ve been on the right side of a couple other ones.”
While some across the country have asked their players to sign a waiver or a pledge related to the pandemic, Frost says Nebraska will do no such thing. Iowa asked coaches and players to sign a pledge to return to campus that they would practice responsible habits so as to limit the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus. Indiana did the same. Ohio State made players (and those not yet 18 years of age needed a parent) sign an acknowledgment of risk waiver.
“We’re not going to do a pledge. Our guys understand the rules involved with being around,” Frost said. “I don’t think I need to get our kids to sign anything, they understand what’s at stake and they’re doing a good job of following all the regulations that we put forth.”
Temperature checks are conducted daily before student-athletes are allowed to enter athletic department facilities. Upon returning to Lincoln, student-athletes quarantined for 48 hours.
Frost says there are those who are scared of the virus, “and rightfully so,” but his players are not.
“Our kids just want to be out lifting and running and getting ready for a football season,” he said.
One item on the agenda that still needs some finalizing is what happens when football workouts start, or the season begins, and a player tests positive. Frost acknowledged there’s still time, but he said one thing still missing is guidance from health officials on what steps should be taken in the event of a positive test.
“I have a finance degree and a background in coaching. I don’t know much about medicine. I’m going to leave it to the people who know a lot more about it than I do and we’re going to follow whatever protocols they suggest,” he said. “When you’re talking about a contact sport like football, if somebody tests positive, it’s going to be next to impossible to go back and watch every rep of practice to see who they’ve touched during practice. I think some of the directive on how we handle those situations is going to be important as we get into the season, but I know our kids want to play.”
Some states are requiring public universities disclose any positive test results of student-athletes while others aren’t, citing medical privacy concerns. Frost was not asked if anyone has returned a positive test since voluntary workouts began. If there were any, Nebraska has not made them public.
Houston halted all activity within its football team after six players tested positive this week.
Nebraska is expecting to move along business as usual (or some semblance of it) in the coming weeks. The NCAA football oversight committee last week passed a recommendation for a preseason training schedule that would allow eight hours a week of access to players beginning on July 13 and running until July 24, at which time those eight-hour weeks would become 20-hour weeks.
For two weeks, college programs would run through something similar to an NFL minicamp. Players would be allowed to conduct walkthroughs with a ball. Fall camp would then begin for Nebraska on Aug. 7. The NCAA Division I Council will vote on the recommendation Wednesday.
Frost is in favor of it.
“Missing the amount of spring practice we did just sets you back as far as knowing Xs and Os and being able to operate as a team, and having a little extra time before camp starts to get walkthroughs and some of that done will definitely, I think, benefit everybody that missed spring ball,” he said. “From my standpoint, if we can get some work done during that time, as far as the Xs and Os go, we’re actually going to be a little bit easier on them in camp. We won’t have as much to get installed and as much to do, so maybe you might be able to limit the reps and basically do enough to get them ready to go out and hit, get used to wearing the pads and get some live reps. With the added week-and-a-half, you don’t have to be in as big a hurry to get a lot of reps run and a lot of the Xs and Os in.”
If the recommendation is approved, it’s a preseason schedule Frost could see himself advocating for in the future.
“We’ll see how it goes this fall,” he said, “but I might be in favor of doing something like this every year.”
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.