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Hail Varsity Mailbag
Photo Credit: Quentin Lueninghoener

Mailbag: NIL Details, the Husker Running Back Room, and More

May 27, 2021

It’s time for another mailbag. Let’s dive in.

With the name, image, and likeness issue, will there be an additional compliance issue for colleges to remind players to report all income? (@dmhusker1) 

Mike Babcock: Not sure all the details have been worked out, in several ways. Will it be like professional athletes (I think it’s this way); for example, if they’re wearing a Husker uniform, do they have to reimburse the university in some way if they’re profiting from that image because the university owns those rights? Certainly, they’ll have to report all income to the IRS, right? The university probably needs to know what the income is, but it won’t affect scholarship money. 

Greg Smith: I assume that compliance offices around the country will need to be beefed up or it’s going to be a much heavier load for them to handle. There will be a lot of new wrinkles to deal with moving forward and everything won’t be known ahead of time.  

Erin Sorensen: I’m not sure student-athletes would need to report all income made to their university, unless the university was helping keep track of things for taxes, etc. I think the student-athletes will need to report the deals, mostly just to be sure there is no conflict of interest (like if an athlete wants to do a deal with Nike but is at an Adidas school). However, I think taxes will be interesting. Of course they’ll have to report their income to the IRS and it’ll function essentially like an influencer (or independent contractor). What I’ll be most interested in is state income tax. For example, if a student-athlete is from a state that has state income tax but goes to a school in a state that doesn’t (like Florida), I assume if they remain a resident of their home state that they’ll then be subject to their home state income tax (even if the deal took place in a state without). That may mean we see more student-athletes try to get residency for certain states, especially in a place like Florida, to take advantage of no state income tax. I’ve oversimplified this one part, but it’s something I find interesting. We’ll see how it goes. 

Which football coach in the Big Ten is most in danger of being let go after next season? (@dmhusker1) 

Brandon Vogel: I don’t know that there’s any coach in imminent danger, which is pretty unique for a big-time football conference. Rutgers, Maryland and Michigan State are too early in those tenures for a performance-based firing. Illinois has a first-year head coach. We can safely say Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin are happy with their current state (or should be able to say that). That leaves Michigan, Nebraska, and Purdue. Jim Harbaugh just signed a 5-year extension, at half his salary, so it seems like Michigan is in that boat for at least a few more seasons. Scott Frost, relative to expectations, is probably the furthest behind where he needs to be, but I really don’t think he’s in danger this season. Nebraska must show progress, but barring a complete disaster the 2022 season is the tense one in my mind. Jeff Brohm has a similar, mild uncertainty at Purdue. There seems to be some anxiousness around the Boilermakers ability to build upon the extraordinary jump Brohm engineered in years one and two. Purdue went from a team that was a complete non-factor in the conference to a team that could beat anyone on any given day with some enviable talent at spots. Of course, two seasons removed from that the question is “what else can you do?” It always is except for the coaches at the very top of the heap. But for Purdue, can it command enough interest in the job that an upgrade is likely if it were to make a change? I’m guessing no. So, my answer, I guess by default, is that I don’t see anyone making a purely performance-based change in 2021, but Frost and Nebraska probably have the least wiggle room right now. 

Jacob Padilla: For all the reasons Brandon laid out, if I had to bet on the over/under of 0.5 Big Ten coaches getting fired after this coming season, I’d take the under. But I think Scott Frost is definitely the most likely to land on a national hot seat list even if I don’t see him losing his job barring a two-win season or something like that. The Harbaugh situation at Michigan is definitely awkward, though. 

What’s your take on the RB situation? It seems even less clear now after spring because of all the injuries. The coaches keep talking about 4-5 guys they like but to me that means they don’t have one guy who has stepped up and that’s concerning to me. (@geniusman16) 

MB: Markese Stepp and Rahmir Johnson weren’t involved in spring practice, so their presence in the fall will make it even more unclear. I’m surprised Thompkins was the only one to opt for the transfer portal at this point. You’re right, though, one or two guys need to step up (no pun intended) at that position. It’s a little bit like the quarterback cliché: When you’ve got two quarterbacks, you have no quarterback. Four or five are great for depth. But snaps can’t be spread among four or five, one or two work. 

GS: My take is that it is a huge summer for all of the guys left in the room for various reasons. Someone (or two) needs to show they can be a consistent back for this offense. It’s not sustainable to lean on the quarterback run game so much. It is concerning but there is time to get it figured out. 

JP: I have a hard time making sense of it because I can’t really get a feel for what the coaches want out of starting back. Nebraska hasn’t truly committed to a back since Devine Ozigbo took off during the second half of Frost’s first season in Lincoln. The coaches were hesitant to go all-in on Dedrick Mills throughout his two years at Nebraska (part of that was injury, part of that was inefficiency as a runner to be fair). I like what I saw out of Ronald Thompkins the few teams he got on the field, but he only got on the field a few times for whatever reason. Marvin Scott III got the second-most carries among backs last year and he turned them into 2.6 yards per carry (yikes). Rahmir Johnson only got eight carries last year (3.8 yards per carry) and missed the whole spring. Will Sevion Morrison be healthy? Will the coaches trust Gabe Ervin Jr. More than the other young backs they’ve brought in the last couple years? They brought in Markese Stepp for a reason, so as long as he’s healthy I think they’re going to give him a legitimate shot to win the starting job. But beyond that, I wouldn’t be surprised by any combination of backs getting carries. 

Derek Peterson: Interpreting “four or five we like” as “no one player has emerged” is probably pretty safe right now, even if they do in fact like those backs. Both can be true. There are four or five I like and could see having success. I’m not concerned about the options at running back yet (keyword) but there needs to be a very real sense of urgency once fall camp begins. Nebraska needs its traditional running game to be much better than it was a season ago. And to do that its running backs need to be much better than a season ago.

Will Bolt is breaking through with wins faster than Frost and Hoiberg. Who has the most success sooner: Frost or Hoiberg? Do you think it’s a possibility that NU can get back to the Big 12 in the next 5 years? (@CarnesRegg) 

MB: I’ll answer the second part. No. There might be an overall restructuring of the major conferences for football; who knows where things are headed? But Nebraska returning to the Big 12? Too much money in the B1G. And the academic prestige Chancellor Perlman wanted when he was in charge and the move was made. Plus, think about something as simple as pride, crawling back to the Big 12. Not going to happen. 

GS: I’ll take Hoiberg for success sooner between he and Frost. I still think the arrow is pointing up for Nebraska basketball. I don’t think there is any chance Nebraska is leaving the Big Ten. 

JP: I think both teams need to make significant strides this season in order to build up some positive momentum or else things could get a little awkward in Lincoln. I’d expect Hoiberg’s group to take a bigger step forward I think based on the starting point for each teams and what each team is both bringing back and bringing in this offseason. Hoiberg has continuity for the first time and he’s also adding the best recruiting class in program history. I also think the Big Ten is taking a step back in terms of top-to-bottom competitiveness with the departures from the league, so wins could potentially be a bit easier to come by. As for the Big 12, nah. 

DP: While the Big 12 isn’t a feasible option at all, the Big Ten does need to look at its overall behavior toward Nebraska athletics. Whether Nebraska’s on-field competitiveness in football has been a disappointment to the league or not, the Big Ten benefits from Nebraska’s inclusion in it, and the last 18 months or so have put a strain on the relationship. Light is being shed on last year’s football chaos following the initial postponement, and it seems a pretty large chunk of the league was against league leadership in some form or fashion, but Nebraska was the only program put in the crosshairs over it. The way championship Sunday was handled last weekend from the league’s perspective was bush-league stuff. The outward perception is that Kevin Warren or the Big Ten or both has an ax to grind against Nebraska, and however real or not that is, it’s the outward perception, which is worth something. Football is in what amounts to a five-year run of poor performance, but this program was in the conference title game two years after joining. People act like that never happened because of the score and that Nebraska has been a fledgling program set adrift for 20 years, which just isn’t accurate. Baseball just won the league title. Basketball has an NBA coach with a pedigree that clearly attracts top talent and a huge arena that sells seats and tv spots. Volleyball is a perennial national title contender. Nebraska might not be the class of the league on the football field right now, but the league should be careful to treat it like a second-class citizen. People only put up with disrespect for so long.

Is anyone on the football team competing in track or any other sports? (@JigglyPuffPuff7) 

BV: Not that I’m aware of, and I think that might be a temporary impact of the uncertainty of last year. Cameron Jurgens threw shot during the indoor season in 2020, but the outdoor season was canceled and given everything all the athletes went through just to play their primary sport, hopping over to another one would be a particular challenge right now. I suspect that will come back, however, in 2021–22. 

JP: Like Brandon said, competing in both during the pandemic has probably been incredibly challenging. For example, Mathias Algarin committed to Nebraska as a football walk-on and track athlete in 2020 but he’s now only doing track. 

Are they looking at changing any other future games whether it’s sites of games or just how the games are on the schedule/who we play? (@huskerwave) 

MB: This was probably a one-time deal. The B1G decides the conference schedule, so it would only be nonconference games. Why Nebraska set things up as it did for the 2021 season originally is unclear, except for the pandemic and its lingering issues. And why Nebraska tried to get out of the Oklahoma game is embarrassing. 

BV: I don’t see any great swap opportunities on the future schedules, but it’s also hard to project where things will be, and what the desires are, eight years down the road. Nebraska said it would try to reschedule Southeastern Louisiana and does have an open nonconference date in 2024 (UTEP and Colorado are already scheduled). Future home-and-homes with Cincinnati and Tennessee have long been on the schedule, and, personally, I hope they remain there as they’re both interesting venues and opponents. There’s not a ton of upside to playing a Cincinnati at the moment, a good G5 team that doesn’t offer the “reward” of a P5 win, but who knows what that will look like in two or three years. 

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