Sometimes you see an interview and know almost immediately, “They’re going to regret that one later.”
Saturday felt like one of those times.
I don’t think Bill Moos has made many public missteps since coming to Lincoln (truth be told, the impact of this one is probably not hugely terrible; it’ll live on social media and come up on pregame talk shows, Rutgers or Maryland or Michigan State will probably feel slighted, but those schools have their own problems), but his comments about the presumed strength of Nebraska’s new 2020 schedule, and the question of fairness the schedule raised, created an entirely avoidable problem.
Nebraska, in case you’ve missed it, will play at Ohio State, then home against Wisconsin and Penn State in three of its first four weeks. (A trip to Northwestern is sandwiched between the Badgers and Nittany Lions.) Shortly after that schedule was released on FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff show, the Husker Athletic Director jumped on the phone with The Lincoln Journal Star and voiced his displeasure over the start.
“This football team’s got a chance to be really good. But it doesn’t look like we’re getting a lot of breaks here,” Moos told the Journal Star. “And confidence and morale are big in any walk of life. We’re just going to have to put it together and go into Columbus and get after them.
“We sure as hell aren’t gonna forfeit.”
(Coming back to the forfeit comment later.)
The headline for the piece reads “Moos not thrilled with Husker football schedule as NU opens with league heavyweights.” He went on to say he asked for division champs to be decided by division-only games, he asked for a completely rebuilt schedule based on the second version released on Aug. 11, and he asked for fairness in “who we play and when.”
In his words, “I was 0-for-3.” It’s worth pointing out here Moos served on the scheduling subcommittee that decided this schedule.
Perhaps Nebraska doesn’t have the same weight to throw around as Moos calculated, or simply just not as much as Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State, which would be no insult considering what those three programs have done for the league of late.
Regardless of why he didn’t get what he wanted, the public bemoaning of that decision causes optical problems on a number of fronts.
One, Nebraska looks like a chronic complainer right now, and looks matter when your lifeblood is built on salesmanship.
It complained about not having football (a dumb way to phrase it but bear with me), and then complained about not being able to “pack” (Moos’ words) fans into Memorial Stadium during a pandemic, and then complained about the schedule it got which featured the same kind of daunting gauntlet it expected to face five months ago.
Remember, in early March, when Nebraska opened spring ball, it was preparing for a five-game stretch to close the year that went at Ohio State, Penn State, at Iowa, at Wisconsin, and Minnesota. I’d argue to get Wisconsin and Penn State early and at home is better for a team still developing depth than later when injuries or wear and tear have taken a toll.
Ohio State has opened a season against a Power Five opponent three times since 2015: Oregon State (2018), Indiana (2017), and Virginia Tech (2015). In the latter two games Ohio State trailed both times. The Buckeyes don’t have a warm-up to work out the kinks a clunky offseason has undoubtedly created. That’s not to say they’ll be easily beatable—I called them the Death Star on Saturday—but would you rather play a team oiling the gears still or a team firing on all cylinders?
Second, whether he should be or not, the athletic director is a proxy for the head coach when speaking publicly.
You think Scott Frost skated by when Moos said three years ago the Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines were “running scared?” Harbaugh kicked his teeth in first chance he got.
Despite not making a single public comment about the schedule, it’ll be assumed Frost is worried about having to play Ohio State and Penn State instead of Michigan State and Rutgers. Is that bulletin board material for Mel Tucker’s Spartans next time they meet? Purdue and Indiana did the same thing in back-to-back years.
We’ve already seen it happen this offseason. University leadership failed to immediately and emphatically stomp down any Big Ten exit rumors, and Frost has been the one mocked repeatedly because of it. At no point in time did he threaten a coup, and yet during the Louisville-Miami halftime show on ESPN Saturday night the studio crew cracked jokes at Frost’s expense over the ordeal.
Plus, with what we know about Frost, it seems more likely he’d embrace the schedule.
The climb up the mountain is never easy. There’s a whole list of “be the best by beating the best” clichés that work here, but at the end of the day, they’re all true. You have to take the belt, it’s not given to you.
This is the way Scott Frost thinks. We know this about the Husker head coach by now.
Frost believes in doing things the hard way if they’re the right way. This is a man who won a national championship as a college quarterback and then agreed to play defensive back in the NFL because it meant he got to stay and compete. How many guys in the same position today would have done the same? Frost is a different breed of competitor.
He has built a team and a culture in Lincoln that mirrors that temperament more with each passing day.
— Wan’Dale Robinson (@wanda1erobinson) September 19, 2020
That’s your best player and the face of your program.
Acknowledge the challenge. Meet the challenge.
Don’t lament over how tough it is.
That Nebraska has had zero opt-outs of its season, that a portion of the locker room was willing to sue the damn conference, that the near-universal response on Wednesday to the league’s return was of giddy optimism tells you where this group is at. They want to play ball and they don’t care who against. That’s Frost. That’s the culture. They’re becoming synonymous.
If Frost had said something (it’s fine he didn’t), that probably would have been the outward-facing attitude.
Now, it doesn’t matter what he says.
Third, what’s the thing you gain by taking this stance? The barbs coming Nebraska’s way don’t enhance the brand in any measurable way. Is it an attempt to further appeal to the people already on your side? After a summer filled with public PR victories?
Even a poll of the fanbase Saturday revealed four-fifths of people didn’t care about a tough slate. Sixty percent of roughly 1,500 respondents said they had no issues with the schedule, strap it up and play. Eighteen percent said they didn’t care one way or the other, and only 22% said they thought it was punishment for a vocal summer.
You feel like you’re being unfairly treated because you voiced displeasure with decisions so you’re going to voice more displeasure with decisions? And drawing almost immediately on the “you’re not here without us” card makes the whole thing feel disingenuous. Did Nebraska fight hard to play football because it wanted to play football or because it wanted to be able to hold something over the rest of the league? (It’s the former, but asking for thank yous sure makes it look like the latter.)
"I’ve got a good football team with a great football coach that deserves a break here or there to start getting back on track to being a contender in the Big Ten West.” https://t.co/ZvVeFyDEDm
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) September 19, 2020
The replies there are a trip. And all those retweets are just people dunking on the quote because the one given to The Omaha World-Herald is actually worse than its predecessor.
While Moos’ quotes were hitting the timeline, legendary Husker volleyball coach Terry Pettit tweeted, “(In my opinion) it is a disservice to the NU players to complain about the schedule.” Former players agreed.
Now put the forfeit comment back on the table. When you hear someone say, “Well, we’re not gonna forfeit,” it usually signals the person talking has already prepared themselves for a loss, they’re just not going to roll over. Is that the feeling right now? Resignation that the climb is too steep?
Of course not! Of course Moos has faith in the coach he hired, paid a lot of money to, extended, and consistently champions. Of course Moos believes in the football team that coach has developed.
So why did any of this need to be said out loud?
I don’t think it did.
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.