It looked like Nebraska might play football this Saturday after all. That lasted approximately 15 minutes.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported early Thursday that Nebraska was finalizing a plan with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to play this Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The game would have replaced the Huskers’ matchup with Wisconsin, which was canceled due to COVID-19.
Nebraska, in its first public statement since the game’s cancellation Wednesday morning, confirmed those reports, adding that the league did not approve its request.
“With the cancellation of the game against Wisconsin, we did explore the possibility of securing a non-conference game for Saturday,” Nebraska said in a joint statement from Athletic Director Bill Moos and UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green. “The discussions we had were with teams that had already implemented stricter testing protocols than those mandated by the Big Ten Conference. Those details were non-negotiable if we were to bring a non-conference opponent to Lincoln.”
ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg wrote that UTC had already tested staff and players Wednesday and that those test results came back negative. The Mocs played a game against Western Kentucky this past Saturday.
Several reports suggested the Big Ten’s Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COP/C) voted not to allow the game to happen. The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach wrote that the COP/C did not vote specifically on Nebraska, but that it voted on whether to allow for any team to schedule a new game in the event of a cancellation.
With the Big Ten’s Oct. 24 start and the College Football Playoff’s stance on keeping the CFP selection date on Dec. 20, the Big Ten had nine weeks to get in eight regular-season games and a conference title. There was no time for make-up games after dashing a more flexible plan in early August. It would seem the league has set a precedent. Suffice it to say several folks will be watching whether the league follows it in the coming weeks.
Nebraska, as was the case this offseason, just wanted to play football.
“At Nebraska, we will always make decisions based on what is best for our student-athletes, and to provide them with the best possible experience during their college careers,” the statement Thursday read. “To this point, the young men in our program have worked hard to prepare for the football season and have made the necessary sacrifices in order to play in this unusual environment. With an already shortened season, we owed it to our student-athletes to explore any possible option to play a game this week.
UTC Athletic Director Mark Wharton told CBSSports.com’s Dennis Dodd that the Huskers and Mocs “went through many levels of approval with the Big Ten.” The league declined the proposal “on the final approval.” A UTC official declined to comment to the Times Free Press, but a source shared that if the game were to have happened, UTC would have received between $200,000 and $250,000 for the game. Nebraska would also have handled travel expenses.
“We believe the flexibility to play non-conference games could have been beneficial not only for Nebraska, but other Big Ten teams who may be in a similar position as the season progresses,” Nebraska said Thursday. “The ability for all Big Ten members to play a non-conference game if needed could provide another data point for possible College Football Playoff and bowl consideration.”
Instead, Nebraska will have to wait for a Nov. 7 trip to Evanston, Illinois, for its next game. And it’ll have to hope other programs don’t run afoul like Wisconsin.
“Ultimately, the Big Ten Conference did not approve our request, and we respect their decision,” Nebraska said. “We are excited to move forward with preparations for the rest of the season, beginning with next week’s game at Northwestern.”