In a COVID-19-less world, we’d be two months out from the start of the college volleyball season. Unfortunately, the pandemic has completely derailed the normal sports calendar and the status of the 2020 season is very much up in the air.
For the time being, however, Coach John Cook is moving forward under the impression that he season will happen without any major alterations.
“We’re planning as if we’re going to have a full season,” Cook told Hail Varsity. “That’s the plan. Now, if it gets scaled back or delayed, some of it gets canceled, then we adjust. But we’re going to plan as if we’ll have a full season. That’s what they’ve said, so that’s what we’re going to plan for and then be ready to adjust. But nothing would surprise me at this point.”
Nebraska has already changed its nonconference schedule significantly in response to the pandemic and the financial tensions it has created. Nebraska canceled a planned trip to TCU, and the Huskers’ multi-year event including Stanford, Louisville and Kentucky that would have included a trip out west to face the Cardinal this season has been pushed back a year. Cook also said some teams have pulled out of the nonconference tournaments Nebraska is set to host.
Instead of traveling to California or Texas or flying in teams from the west coast, Nebraska is looking regionally to fill out its nonconference schedule, and Cook started making those moves even before Bill Moos urged his coaches to start thinking that way.
“I’m glad we, early on, adjusted our schedule, because now Bill Moos just came out and they want coaches to cut programs 10% and try to save wherever we can,” Cook said. “I’m glad we were proactive on that and I feel like we’ve got a good alternative. Now, the question is going to be how many other teams are going to travel and what they’re going to be allowed to do? But as far as what we can control, and if we’re just going to play close, around here, we feel really good. We have good rivalries, great competition and so we’ll be happy with that.”
Cook tends to be aggressive with his nonconference schedules as a way to help prepare his team for what it’s going to face in the Big Ten. Limiting travel cuts down on the talent pool to draw from, but Cook said he feels really good about his options.
“If everything holds true, what’s happening, but we have to be ready to adjust. Even if we only can play UNO and Creighton in the nonconference, we’d be happy with that and feel like it could prepare us.”
All that being said, going without a nonconference season entirely is still very much a possibility the Big Ten is discussing as well. In the conference, testing and other protocols surrounding COVID-19 will be relatively uniform. That would not be the case for teams from other leagues, particular those from lower-level conferences.
Everything is still on the table, and Cook said he has no idea when the conference might make a decision.
As for Big Ten play, Cook said the coaches already have the schedule and it’s been altered in order to limit air travel. Cook said to look out for more Wednesday-Sunday match weeks (not his favorite) and that the league schedules would be more regional-based. For the Huskers, that likely means multiple matches with Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.
The next step once finalizing a schedule will be to figure out what to do with fans. Nebraska is hoping to allow some kind of fan attendance come the fall and is working through various contingencies to make that happen. Cook shared one of those options during the June episode of Conversation with the Cooks, Huskers Sports’ monthly podcast with Cook and his daughter, Lauren West.
“We’re having meetings now: are we going to play in Devaney, or do we go to Pinnacle Bank Arena?” Cook said. “Our ticket people are trying to figure out if we play in Devaney — which we will — how do we seat people to make it safe? We figure we can get about 2,500 in Devaney safely right now. Pinnacle Bank, we can get 8,000 in there safely. We’re coordinating with Pinnacle Bank right now on what matches we might move there — of course, they’re not available for all of our matches as of now, so some will have to be at Devaney. And then the ones in Devaney, we want to rotate, so how do we do it where if we only take 2,500, OK, we’ve got to get the next 2,500 in so everyone has a chance to go to matches. So there are a lot of things to figure out before we start the season, but we’re getting close.”
Players are back on campus and working out with strength and conditioning coach Brian Kmitta. Normally, the volleyball season gets started at the end of August. The clock is ticking for the Big Ten to make a final decision to allow teams to finalize their schedules. Whatever the conference leadership decides, however, Nebraska will be ready to adapt and adjust.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.