Nebraska is in its 10th season as a member of the Big Ten Conference. It has played 78 league games since relocating from the Big 12 (losing 38 of them). And yet the school continues to act like it has no idea how to be a cohesive member.
Are the Cornhuskers slow learners, tone deaf, willfully belligerent or still clinging to an outdated sense of blueblood entitlement?
Maybe all of the above. Because here we are again, with another case of Why Nebraska and the Big Ten Can't Get Along.
They certainly didn’t read the Big Ten room very astutely this week, finding yet another way to tick off everyone but their Ohio State bromancers. After losing their upcoming game against Wisconsin due to the Badgers’ COVID-19 issues, the Huskers once again responded to adversity with petulance. Then with an attempt to flout the league rules. Then with another statement when everyone said, once more, “What’s up with these people?”
The petulance: Some fans said the Wisconsin game should be a forfeit instead of declared “no contest,” because (by the thinnest of technicalities), the Badgers could have tried to play. That likely would have changed by Thursday, when Wisconsin reported three more positive tests.
Then it got worse. Nebraska’s IMG radio affiliate, Husker Sports, tweeted a poll that idiotically suggested a conspiracy against the school. “If the roles were reversed and the Huskers had (six) players and (six) staff members sitting out with positive tests, would the game be played Saturday?” This, of course, follows the thinking that the Big Ten office stuck it to Nebraska by giving it a tough early schedule. The perpetual victimhood emanating from the program in 2020 is really something.
That poll eventually was deleted, but not until after it ran for a good long time.
Meanwhile, Nebraska’s administration negotiated a fill-in game against Chattanooga for Saturday. Only after setting up a deal to pay the FCS school a reported $200,000-250,000 for the game did the Huskers get around to asking the Big Ten if, ya know, anyone would mind changing the previously agreed upon 2020 rules against non-conference games.
That request was put before the league presidents and commissioners on a previously scheduled conference call Thursday. It was swatted back to Lincoln at warp speed, with no need for a formal vote. Nobody else was in favor of enabling the latest Nebraska power trip.
This led to another in a series of statements from the school attempting to justify a decision that left the rest of the league wondering what Nebraska’s deal is. It contained some gems.
Start with this sentence: “The discussions we had were with teams that had already implemented stricter testing protocols than those mandated by the Big Ten Conference.” A shot at the league’s testing? It would seem so.
Next: “(T)he 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.” Including paying up to a quarter million dollars for a glorified scrimmage, a little more than two months after furloughing 51 athletic department workers. Wonder how they feel about that outlay of cash while sitting at home not collecting a paycheck?
Also, are we to believe that Nebraska will try this hard for its other sports? Or is this a football-only imperative?
And there is this: “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. 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.” Ah, here Nebraska is trying to sell this as looking out for the best interests of the league.
Yes, because walloping an FCS punching bag is just the data point it would take to make the playoff. The teams that would be available (and willing) to schedule a game on the fly aren’t going to be the ones that help anyone do anything other than pad their win total. (There isn’t even a minimum win total necessary for bowl consideration this year, so scratch that talking point as well.)
Nebraska swaggering into this Chattanooga deal with any expectation that the conference would just roll over and say, “Whatever you want” is terribly misguided after doing nothing to engender goodwill. The school has been much more of an antagonist than a Big Ten loyalist in 2020.
It complained loudly when the season was postponed in August. It was the first school to openly say it would look for ways to play outside the league. And it rattled every available saber during the push to play, up to and including some of its players suing the Big Ten.
Then, after the conference changed course, Nebraska moaned about the schedule. This was the equivalent of a prisoner in solitary confinement begging for a glass of water, having it delivered, then saying, “Wait, where’s the ice?”
During the first game last Saturday, Scott Frost signaled a big F.U. to the conference office by often coaching with his mask around his neck. The optics of that shouted stubborn arrogance, while the rest of the league’s coaches made a good-faith effort to comply with the mask mandate. And let’s remember, this is a guy with a 9-16 record since joining the league—he ain’t exactly Kirk Ferentz when it comes to earned respect.
Look, it stinks that the Wisconsin game can’t be played. That’s a tough break that is not Nebraska’s fault. But in the most unfair year for everyone on the planet, you have to roll with the punches. Some perspective is necessary.
Within the college football world, Nebraska can find examples of how to be a good league member. Florida’s COVID travails threw a huge wrench into the Southeastern Conference schedule, and everyone dealt with it. The Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference have had several postponements to handle, and have done so without anyone going rogue.
That’s what league members do. They work with each other.
Plenty of people around the Big Ten would hold the door open for Nebraska to walk back out. But they aren’t going anywhere that could be as lucrative, and/or as good a geographic fit.
Back to the Big 12? That would require some humility Nebraska doesn’t seem to possess, walking back into the league it left in a huff a decade ago. The biggest rift there was a belief that Texas was insufferably overbearing and entitled. Now you start to wonder.
Maybe, Nebraska, if a school has a second conference relationship issue in ten years, it’s a You Problem.