It's time to stop vilifying Nebraska football for wanting to ... play football
Enough with the unequivocally false narrative that Nebraska football’s primary intention is to rebel against its own conference.
Enough falling for the low-hanging fruit of another “the Huskers are a bunch of whiners” continuously pulled out of supposedly reputable journalists’ pockets in exchange for shameless clicks.
Enough equivocating a fan base’s outer, louder extremes on social media to an institution’s official stance on how COVID-19 is impacting this college football season.
Enough avoiding the real story — that another Big Ten member has a serious outbreak of a disease not even the smartest health experts seem to have their arms around — and the real antagonist — a conference that refuses to adapt and evolve during a complicated and fluid situation.
The fact that 16 Wisconsin players have tested positive for the novel coronavirus stinks to high heaven. So does the fact the Badgers and Nebraska won’t be playing on Halloween afternoon in Lincoln, providing over 150 passionate student-athletes the chance to do what they love and provide a sense of statewide togetherness during a time when people could sure use it.
When they learned former Husker linebacker Barry Alvarez and his athletic department were falling back and regrouping in Wisconsin’s fight against COVID-19, Nebraska brass graciously and professionally accepted, according to the Badgers AD.
Then the Husker brain trust did what we all have to do in 2020. They put their heads down and got creative.
Asking the B1G to consider reversing its conference-only scheduling policy for a nimble Saturday matchup against the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga was just that. A question.
Recalcitrantly, but predictably, the conference’s council of presidents and chancellors swiftly said no. Within 48 hours, Nebraska had gone from losing 1 of 9 precious games to devising a potential solution to getting shut down.
“Ultimately, the Big Ten Conference did not approve our request, and we respect their decision,” a statement from NU chancellor Ronnie Green and athletic director Bill Moos said Thursday. “We are excited to move forward with preparations for the rest of the season, beginning with next week’s game at Northwestern.”
That’s really the end of the story.
At least it should be.
But the lazy false narrative that Nebraska is nothing more than a malcontent has resurfaced. Just search “Huskers” on Twitter and you can feast your eyes on more of the anger porn that has become a scourge on the American psyche the same way COVID attacks one’s respiratory system. Multiple national columnists went straight to their keyboards to regurgitate the far-fetched speculation that Nebraska wants out of the B1G.
Sheesh, with the way the conference’s leaders have handled this pandemic, maybe it should. But the idea that the Huskers’ relative lack of success — a 40-38 mark in league play and no conference championships during its decade-long membership — somehow created a deep-seated desire to jump ship that’s been amplified by a worldwide health crisis is apathetic at best, downright ignorant at worst.
Did you ever hear one thing about Nebraska’s relationship with the conference before COVID-19? Husker nation’s beef was with its own coaching hires and performance, not the league.
If player safety is really the No. 1 concern self-righteous scribes, fans and B1G staff say it is, the focus should be on Wisconsin. Not just to investigate the breakout, but to voice support and empathy for a group of college kids dealing with a potentially nasty virus while having at least part of their season ripped away from them.
Without violating players’ privacy, we should be able to learn from this situation, too. How’d it happen? Can the B1G derive some lessons and evolve its protocols as the season progresses?
Ah, but there’s the rub that sniveling, petulant Nebraska seems to keep forgetting. This is the Big Ten, where a public-relations-driven facade of unity trumps common sense and where loyalty is valued over both science and economics.
You want to go the animalistic route and find someone to pounce on in this situation? Fine. Its headquarters are in Rosemont, Illinois.
The fact is, commissioner Kevin Warren and the B1G screwed this thing up Aug. 11 when they canceled the season, then left the institutions they’re supposed to serve zero flexibility when it reinstated fall football 5 weeks later.
Then, when Nebraska pushed back, the sheer nerve of its desire to create its own schedule got morphed into “they want out, and the league should give them the boot.”
The Huskers haven’t been perfect. Moos and coach Scott Frost have been overly critical of their notoriously difficult slate when they could have just taken a “shut up and play” approach.
Just Wednesday, after Wisconsin announced its difficult decision, the school’s official sports radio network tweeted a poll asking, “If the roles were reversed and the Huskers had (6) players and (6) staff members sitting out with positive tests, would the game be played Saturday?”
Technically, the Husker Sports Network could’ve been asking if Nebraska had the same positivity rate as Wisconsin, would the Huskers have made the same decision? At the time, the Badgers weren’t required by B1G protocols to shut down, only to consider it.
Hey, why let the facts get in the way of a good chance to further the narrative?
But there’s a reason @HuskerSports deleted the tweet after a few hours of backlash. It could have been worded better.
The Husker fan base has its extremists like any other. Piling on Wisconsin amid its outbreak is outlandish. So are the other conspiracy theories this is some kind of payback for Nebraska’s stance against cancellation.
But as for unity, it’s hard to hold that up as a gold standard when the most powerful, successful program in the conference has been in lockstep with Nebraska throughout.
Just Thursday, Ohio State coach Ryan Day said he “thought they should have had the opportunity to” add an opponent.
You want petulant? How about a conference that refuses to think ahead, puts its teams in an impossible situation, then basically laughs off a suggestion there might be a better way.
That’s what Nebraska presented.
Did the B1G members, including Nebraska, agree to the policy forbidding nonconference games? Yes. But the league also voted to cancel the season and changed its mind on that. Why not again look at the data — including UT Chattanooga’s health protocols, which Nebraska said were stricter than the B1G’s — and adapt?
And to suggest the Huskers should’ve approached the conference before making tentative arrangements with the Mocs is ludicrous. Would you ask your boss for a promotion without any performance metrics or case for how you’d perform in the new role?
This won’t be the last time a B1G game gets canceled this season. And the Huskers gave the conference, which is so concerned about an image that continues to crumble, an opportunity to save face: Give healthy teams whose games are canceled the chance to schedule other opponents.
They don’t have to be FCS teams like UT Chattanooga. Even if they are, the TV revenue opportunity is there.
Furthermore, Ohio State’s chances at a College Football Playoff berth were cited as a reason the B1G gave in and brought fall football back. Now we’re 1 week into the season and faced with the reality the Buckeyes and the rest of the league could miss multiple contests.
How do those Playoff chances look now?
But that’s the B1G in 2020. Its leadership, or lack thereof, is to blame.
Not a school that was at the forefront of dealing with this pandemic, dating to June when it put together a playbook of sorts for testing and mitigation after bringing its players back to campus earlier than others (of course, the conference reportedly didn’t pay much attention).
Not a team that’s coming off 2 losing seasons but has enough 18-22-year-olds who are willing to skip out on the normal, self-glorifying student-athlete existence in the name of playing the game without many of the usual perks.
Not a program that was welcomed to the B1G 10 years ago with open arms and has boosted the league’s footprint and television value immensely.
Before COVID-19, a Big Red fan could go to a road game in Minneapolis or Columbus and be greeted warmly by well-educated locals who revered the program’s tradition and recognized its value from a business standpoint. Believe it or not, those folks are still out there.
They just keep getting drowned out by those with virtual pitchforks and torches blazing from their smartphones.
But in an age of too much information and disinformation than our brains were designed to handle, we all have a choice. So ask yourself this:
Would you dog on the manager of a manufacturing plant that sustains an entire town’s economy for trying to keep it operating while enhancing COVID safety regulations?
Would you put a teacher on blast for continuing to educate to the best of her ability in the midst of a pandemic?
Would you shout down a local restauranteur who’s followed every CDC guideline and local ordinance to a T for attempting to stay in business this year?
College athletic departments exist to bring in revenue for their universities, enhance the institution’s brand and create a sensational experience for the athletes who make the machine hum, allowing them to derive their own personal and professional value in the process. Conferences exist to provide structure, organization, financial stability and access to competition.
Nebraska football wants to fulfill its very reason for being. The B1G seems insistent on doing the opposite while other Power 5 conferences press forward.
So who really deserves the vitriol here?