Though excitement abounds with Nebraska football set to kick off this weekend, things are not exactly hunky-dory inside Memorial Stadium, at least not according to the picture Husker athletic director Bill Moos outlined during an appearance on the Husker Sports Nightly radio show Tuesday night.
First, Moos confirmed reports that the track and field team has halted team activities after “several positive tests.”
The number itself hasn’t been reported, but it was enough to force Nebraska to take action.
“This thing, as we all know—we’ve been watching it for months and months—can spread very fast,” Moos said. “So, we felt the best thing to do … is to shut down practice, to shut the program down, to pause it until we can get it under control and are confident that everybody is back in a position not to be a danger to their teammates.”
Track coach Gary Pepin had previously told the Omaha World-Herald on Oct. 14 that practices would be halted until Monday, Oct. 19, and then they’d re-evaluate. Moos’ timeline makes things seem more indefinite.
“It hasn’t been like they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Pepin told the World-Herald. “It’s very, very difficult, with that many kids, to not have some kind of issues or some kind of problems with college-aged kids.
“If you just expect them to go in their dorm room, and never leave, that’s pretty tough. That’s not going to happen.”
Moos struck a calm tone when discussing the situation, saying positive tests are going to happen.
“Our listeners gotta realize that roughly 25% of our student-athletes are track and field athletes, so large numbers both male and female,” he said.
The track and field team lists more than 100 athletes on its roster. The football team, though, lists over 150.
On Monday, head football coach Scott Frost said his team has had its share of positive tests as well.
“I don’t anticipate us having an issue with the standards and protocols set by the Big Ten,” he said when asked if they were in good enough shape to play Ohio State this weekend. “I think our medical staff’s doing a good job keeping people safe. We’ve already had enough on our team that have either tested positive or have antibodies that I think we’ve gotten to a place where we’re a little bit less at risk.”
Though roughly 80% of the athletic department’s staff (by Moos’ estimate) is still working remotely, even they are having issues with the virus.
“We have had some administrators that recently tested positive and are quarantining. We’ve had some come back from it,” Moos said. “We have a couple of staff members right now that were in a meeting with another one that tested positive, so those two are quarantining as per the protocol as well.”
Throughout the summer, Moos and other members of the Husker football program have lauded the athletic department’s protocols, but Nebraska has given no insight into how exactly it has contained the virus.
Asked how much transparency would be required by the school in terms of its testing results, Moos said they’re going to remain guarded.
The outward statement all summer is that Nebraska will report testing results to the Big Ten conference, which will keep a record for each program, and to the necessary local health officials. It has not and will not make that information public.
“We feel that that’s sufficient at this time,” Moos said. “We feel it’s in our best interest right now to keep these things within our family.”
Moos added that Nebraska would “never” refer to those who had tested positive by name. According to a report from ESPN, Nebraska is one of only four Big Ten schools to have not released any testing information from its athletic department, joining Ohio State, Northwestern, and Rutgers.
The football team is currently being tested six days a week. It will not be tested the day immediately following competition (Sundays in most cases). Daily testing for men’s and women’s basketball will begin three weeks before the season-opener.
Other sports are being tested right now, just not daily. Moos said both basketball teams have had their activities confined to the Hendricks Training Complex, with their meals from the Training Table delivered so as to prevent “cross-pollination,” as Moos called it, between teams in-season and those who aren’t.
Testing has mostly gone smoothly, Moos said, as and Frost said the same Monday.
“The testing is less onerous than I thought it would be,” Frost said.
The Big Ten is not footing the bill, though, only fronting the cost for the daily PCR tests. Moos said the overall expense will be taken from the revenue distribution each university receives from the conference at the end of the year. “We will feel it in the end,” he said.
Other News and Notes
>> The non-conference basketball schedule will have some finalization this week, Moos said. He expects between five and seven non-conference games, depending on participation in a multi-team event. One will reportedly take place in Lincoln at Pinnacle Bank Arena, with Oklahoma State going so far as to publicly discuss its travel plans for the event, but the Huskers have not said anything publicly about it.
>> Moos said all is well with the Huskers’ “Sea of Red” campaign. Fans can purchase cardboard cutouts to be placed inside Memorial Stadium for $100 (one cutout), $250 (two), or $1,000 (four). The $1,000 option also comes with two full-size cutouts placed inside the Tunnel Walk. Moos said they’ve sold more than 4,000 cutouts, but still have some available both in the stands and in the tunnel.
>> In addition to cutouts, the Huskers will also roll out a “Second Screen” experience for Husker home games this fall.
Fans will be able to see warm-ups on the field beginning 90 minutes before kickoff and they will “actually be able to observe and get a feel for the Tunnel Walk,” Moos said. They’ll have access to stats during breaks. There will also be videos of the band and the cheer team, and the option for fans at home to submit their own videos.
Moos said fans can access through Huskers.com, Facebook, and Twitter.
>> Moos said the university has brought back “several” of the staffers who were furloughed earlier in the summer. The majority of those who have returned are in the nutrition department because the Training Table has reopened, though Moos said some from game management have also returned.
>> This fall, the Big Ten will be providing teams with “crowd noise ‘murmur’ audio tracks,” per a release from Ohio State. The volume will have to stay at 70 decibels during play and can be increased to 90 decibels “during celebration moments.”
Frost has said he’s not a fan of artificial crowd noise being pumped into Memorial Stadium.
Moos took exception with it as well.
“Some of this starts to border on being ridiculous,” he said. “Where’s the decibel meter for when we do have crowds? And you know how I feel about the people in our venues being determined by local health authorities rather than by the Big Ten. Having said that, there (have) been limits. We are going to talk again tomorrow about how those are going to be monitored and when the artificial sound can start and when it needs to stop and all those types of things.
>> In speaking about fan attendance, Moos said he hopes to be able to have fans in the stands at Pinnacle Bank Arena when Nebraska basketball begins its season. Men’s and women’s basketball can begin on Nov. 25, a month after the football season begins.
“We want to get—and we will request this—feedback from our fans on if they would be interested in being in PBA,” Moos said. “It could surely be dictated by the conference just like football has been, but I’d like to go forward with the assumption and hope that we will be able to have at least some fans come and watch Husker basketball for both of our programs this winter.”
He said there have been no decisions made yet on that front, but it’s clear which side he’s fighting for.
>> Interesting enough, Moos said his son, Ben, a sophomore outside linebacker for Cal, has opted out of the 2020 season.
“We struggled with that a little bit and I went out and talked to him about it,” Moos said. “He’s going to take advantage of getting some injuries taken care of, probably gonna have surgery on his right wrist. Now that he’s been assured he’ll have two more full seasons, we thought that might be a wise decision.”
>> One fan texted a question into the radio show Tuesday night asking Moos how close fans would be able to get to the stadium on game days. The university is not allowing tailgating on campus this fall, and Moos said there will be nothing organized by the athletic department.
“Things are going to be pretty quiet around the perimeter of the stadium and the campus itself,” he said. “It would be great to have the tailgating, it would be wonderful to have some fans inside, but right now we’re going to just focus on keeping things safe and healthy.
“Best way to do that is to keep our gatherings to as small of groups as possible. Nothing organized here on campus. … I have a hunch that Huskers are going to be getting together. If they do, and those of you that are listening, be real sensible, keep a little distance, wear a mask. Let’s get this whole thing behind us as soon as we can.”