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Hail Varsity Mailbag
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Mailbag: NIL Dos & Don’ts, Special Teams, the Nebraska AD Search and More

July 01, 2021

It’s time for another mailbag, so let’s dive in.

 What area of special teams do you expect to show the most improvement? (@dmhusker1) 

Brandon Vogel: Punting seems like the best bet. That’s a little bit by default. Kickoffs (coverage and return) are such a small part of the game under the current rules and one would expect Connor Culp to remain good, that only leaves punting or punt return. I don’t yet see a De’Mornay Pierson-El type on the roster, so I’m back at punting. I think with a coach more directly overseeing special teams and the benefit of multiple options at punter, it is the area most ripe for rapid improvement. While we still need to see Daniel Cerni do it at this level, just having an Aussie-style punter also means Nebraska has the potential to get creative with how it handles punts. 

Jacob Padilla: Brandon nailed the easy answer: Nebraska’s coaches apparently saw enough from Daniel Cerni to offer him a scholarship, something they didn’t do for any other specialist on the team including Connor Culp. Kickoffs and kickoff coverage both have plenty of room for improvement as well. Perhaps the increased emphasis on special teams in practice will produce better coverage, and maybe freshman Kelen Meyer can be an asset on kickoffs. Punting seems like the safer bet though. 

Derek Peterson: Punting, as Brandon illustrated, is probably the safe bet for most improved. For the sake of originality, I’ll just add that kickoff is a huge area of emphasis for Nebraska. They need more touchbacks, and it seems as though they’re turning over every rock to find a kid with a big enough leg to produce them. 

What opportunities do you see players using NIL for? What would you use it for if you were a college athlete? (@Starkastic8) 

Erin Sorensen: Anything and everything, and I mean it. Just look at the list so far. You have a full branding opportunity at work, a podcast and a running list of endorsements. That will keep growing too, and it’s not just the obvious either. You’ll see athletes that are also musicians booking shows (and I spoke about it here), creators monetizing their YouTube channels or TikTok accounts, a painter selling their work on Etsy, you name it. The opportunities are truly endless. If I were an athlete, I would probably use my NIL rights to sell some merchandise, sign autographs and digital shout-outs and become an “influencer” of sorts. 

When does an athlete begin to fall under the realm of NIL? Recruit, signee, enrolled in college? (@RandallKolman) 

ES: The recruiting piece is complicated. Recruits might be able to benefit from NIL as well in some capacity, but there will be rules (and confusion as a result) and those rules will likely vary for some time state-to-state. Kelly Mosier shared a small look at this on Twitter and that’s probably the best answer to your question. They may fall under the NIL realm as recruits depending on where they live, but it’s not completely clear what they will be able to do and not do. And while one may allow recruits some place in NIL, others won’t. So, Greg, get ready for the chaos coming in recruiting. 

What is to prevent a booster like the late T. Boone Pickens from setting up a company that pays high school seniors for their image and likeness with the “understanding” that the relationship continues if they attend the boosters college? (@dmhusker1) 

ES: See above. I think most states will build in legislation preventing recruits from any NIL benefits until they’re a signee or enrolled in college, but I know there had been discussion about allowing some benefits from recruits as long as they are fully disclosed. The reality is that some booster will probably cheat the system (as they always have) and I guess all I’ll say is don’t get caught if that’s what you’re doing. Going back to the question above though, it’s going to be a little chaotic until there is some uniform legislation for all. I also looked into the recruiting aspect a little more here if you’re interested. 

JP: There are definitely some super-fan boosters who may try to stretch the rules (as if that isn’t already happening), but it’s also worth keeping in mind that most of the NIL sponsorship deals are coming from businesses; they’re not just going to throw money around all over the place simply to help schools win games. These deals have to make some level of financial sense for them as well.  

When Nebraska football finally does take off again (whenever that is) do we have the right to laugh at everyone that has been bashing us for so long, or should be take the high ground? Asking for a friend. (@InDaWilderness) 

BV: I’ve thought about this in the past. I’d say take the high road, at least publicly, otherwise you can fall into a spiral of feeling spurned. Right now, Nebraska fans may feel picked on as the football program has failed to get back to its historical standard. If the program achieves that, however, being super obnoxious about it will only have those same opposing fans throwing shots at the fan base for being the worst. That’s probably the least fun route to take—and perhaps unrealistic based on the entire history of human behavior—but it is all I can advocate in good conscience. 

DP: I’d add that the stuff worth pushing back on right now is already being pushed back on. Nebraska didn’t have to be a 10-win football team for people to take public exception with the Desmond Howards and Pat Fordes of the world saying outlandish things. For the rest of it, usually the best revenge is winning. If Nebraska gets to a point where the occasional Iowa game is 40-10 the other way (which I think will happen), that kind of result says all that needs to be said. It’s also worth noting that this will be a line people inside the program will have to toe as well, not just the fanbase. 

Does the NCAA simply dissolve in a few years once the students start making money; or will they just no longer regulate football, basketball (and maybe volleyball)? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

ES: They either adapt or they dissolve. I assume they will adapt (even if they do so kicking and screaming) but I guess I shouldn’t hold my breath. 

DP: I could certainly see a world where football was governed independently in the not-so-distant future. And maybe basketball can as well, though with all the advancements the women’s game has made in recent years, I’d hope the men’s and women’s side would break away together and remain committed to each other so as not to derail one side’s growth. 

What do you think the chances of Nebraska getting Jamie Pollard as an AD? Obviously the football program is on solid ground and Matt Campbell doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. (@CarnesRegg) 

JP: Based on Jamie Pollard’s own words, I’d say that percentage is zero at this point. 

DP: Yeah, Pollard essentially shut this rumor down himself before this mailbag got posted. But his reasoning was short-sighted, I thought, to say the least. “I would argue right now that our program is ahead of their program,” he said on a podcast appearance. While that might be all well and true from a football standpoint, it’s not true of the overall athletic departments. Iowa State men’s basketball has lost 31 of its last 36 Big 12 conference games. The softball program isn’t anything special, and neither is the volleyball program. Iowa State doesn’t sponsor a baseball team, shuttering the program at the turn of the century due to budget constraints. Nebraska has better facilities already and the gap will widen with the completion of the Go B1G project. It has an NBA coach running a men’s basketball team that plays in an NBA-caliber arena, a conference champion in baseball, a self-sustaining volleyball team, and a football program with more resources at its disposal. Iowa State is ahead right now because Matt Campbell is a very good coach and Scott Frost hasn’t yet gotten his program up to speed. If and when Campbell leaves, Iowa State is back in the middle of the Big 12 pack. Like Pollard said, “There was a day 17 years ago that the thought that the Iowa State athletics director, that people in Nebraska would think that that’s who they should go hire because…rightfully so, they didn’t look at our two programs as being comparable.” And the nature of this Nebraska job is that it’ll return to that place at some point, and if you’re the guy to get it there you’re going to be sitting very pretty. Too many people seem to believe Nebraska is going to be a floundering program for the rest of eternity. It surprised me to see an AD of Pollard’s stature take such a narrow view.   

Am I crazy for thinking (1) If Lars Anderson’s source is correct and Ed Stewart has already agreed to be the new AD, and (2) If this can all be in place in time for the Media Days in Chicago, then (3) this could be perceived as a win for Nebraska. It appeals to the fan base to have a decorated former player at the helm of all athletics—and one who has experience running things. It’s a positive media story (only 15% of D1 ADs are African American). It’s a recruiting win. It hopefully begins to turn a trend where Nebraska is sort of a national media punching bag (though of course winning would help that a lot more!). And it allows Nebraska to reset things with the Big10 brass, where obviously Moos wasn’t making a lot of friends. (email submission) 

BV: I think all of the wins you mentioned are a good encapsulation of what’s potentially at stake here. In fact, I think a lot of these are actual goals for the hire—particularly the relationship with the Big Ten—or at least they should be goals. That said, I don’t think it will be Ed Stewart at this point. Things can always change, but I’m looking at this hiring process as something that will unfold over the weeks, rather than days, ahead. That points to a true national search, with the aid of a search firm, and broadens the field of candidates. Short answer: You’re not crazy. 

I just watched a replay of the Husker women’s bowling team win the NCAA championship. Can they repeat and which Hail Varsity employee would be able to make the bowling team? (@dmhusker1) 

ES: Look, all I’ll say is that I own my own bowling ball and it is engraved with my initials. I was on a bowling team once. I will say nothing more about my capabilities to make the bowling team, but I am open to endorsement opportunities. 

BV: I once owned a bowling ball, with initials. It was purple, a choice I still regret. I also own a trophy commemorating one of the top 10 scores nationally for whatever time frame they were awarding trophies (honestly don’t remember, think it was the week). This is when I was, like, 8 (don’t remember that either), but that’s enough for me to confidently say that if I were betting my own money, I would bet on me. (Note: I would not make the bowling team.) 

JP: I’ve never bowled better than a 135 and I can’t remember the last time I went bowling, so count me out. As for the Huskers, they’re basically bringing everybody back, so I don’t see why they wouldn’t be able to make another run. 

DP: I could not make the team, but I would beat my coworkers. 

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