In September, you could probably describe the relationship between the Big Ten and Nebraska as tenuous. At least from the public-facing side.
Now, Nebraska wasn’t doing half of what it was painted as doing, but it’s true that NU was being a thorn in the Big Ten’s rear. A lawsuit filed by player parents threatened to reveal documents the Big Ten hoped would stay private and Nebraska was the first to raise the question about whether a team could play outside the league in the fall of 2020.
With Ohio State set to play Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship a week from Monday, the Big Ten stands to gain a lot from a season it initially didn’t want to have.
One could argue the Buckeyes looked the most impressive of any of the four playoff teams in dismantling Clemson. The championship game figures to be thrilling. Nebraska AD Bill Moos still believes we wouldn’t be here if not for Buckeye AD Gene Smith and himself standing up for their players.
“I was vocal and I’m glad I was,” Moos told me recently. “Our players deserved to play, our fans deserved to have Nebraska football, and I fought for that and I will continue to do that.”
From his family home in Montana, Moos gave some time during the final days of December to talk about the season that was. We covered a lot of ground. At one point I asked how he’d describe Nebraska’s relationship with the conference now.
“I think my relationship’s good, I think Nebraska’s is good,” he said. “We’re proud members of an iconic conference. What we need to do is compete for championships. In some of our sports we do, in others it’s a work in progress but I’ve got the right coaches, I think we have the right staff, and we’re certainly getting the right student-athletes to really be a force in a very difficult conference.
“I’m all in.”
Moos thought the most valuable thing to come out of this 2020 season for Nebraska was developmental time for young players. In trying to build a championship-caliber program in what many (Moos included) call the toughest conference in the country, you need developmental time.
All season, Nebraska was trolled for its summer fight resulting in winter losses. The intent of Moos and head coach Scott Frost and chancellor Ronnie Green (on the Big Ten’s COP/C) in fighting for a season was often mischaracterized.
“Our guys, our players and all of our student-athletes, wanted to compete,” Moos said.
That was it. So, leaders in the program worked to make it happen. Frost showed he was only about what the players wanted early, and he proved that hadn’t changed late.
Whether the effort to play was appropriate or not shouldn’t be determined by how many games Nebraska won. I’d argue Nebraska should be judged by the environment it created to be able to play those games at all.
This might come off as fluff, but I think kudos are in order for the behind-the-scenes folks who made sure the season was successful in a way that really mattered.
“We had the lowest number of positive tests, as I understand it, in the Big Ten,” Moos told me.
Nebraska never paused. It was able to field a team for every game it played, and it only missed one because of issues on the other side. The Huskers asked to play, were told, “This is everything you need to do to make it happen,” and said, “Bet.” That’s pretty cool.
One of the few programs in the Big Ten that chose not to report its COVID-19 testing data to the public, it’s fair to question whether just taking their word for it was foolish. Tell me it’s safe, so why not show me, right? But, that Nebraska didn’t have an opt-out until the plus-one game probably says all we need to know.
If guys didn’t feel safe, or felt like corners were being cut, someone would have said something. Guys in other programs did so. My sense was that guys felt taken care of, by and large.
“It really is a culmination of a good plan and then the discipline of those involved to follow the plan,” Moos said. “That means my staff, the coaches, the players, the medical group—we had a great deal of help from UNMC out of Omaha. We brainstormed and created an environment that was extremely safe.
“My hat’s off to all of our people who followed the protocol and because of that we didn’t have to pause.”
I think Jay Terry and his crew in equipment management deserve a shoutout. I think Eric Haynes and his crew in the facilities department deserve a shoutout. I think Mark Mayer and his training team and Dave Ellis and his nutrition team and everyone out in Omaha at the University of Nebraska Medical Center all deserve shoutouts. Everyone worked overtime to get through a season.
And that season was “tiring” and “taxing,” Moos said. At the end of it, everyone was exhausted. Frost looked worn out. Moos says he’s doing better. The staff is, too. Nebraska can move into 2021 with no regrets about fighting for football. Everyone wants wins—Moos, Frost, the team, the fans, even the Big Ten is better off with Nebraska winning football games—but I’d think the Big Ten would be pretty happy to have that kind of program in the fold.