Nebraska attempted to quickly schedule a non-conference game for Saturday in place of its canceled matchup with Wisconsin, but the Big Ten said no.
According to multiple reports, Nebraska had an agreement with Chattanooga to play Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln after the Wisconsin game was declared a no contest due to COVID-19 cases on the Wisconsin team. With an unexpected vacancy on the schedule, Nebraska found Chattanooga willing to make the trip — but the Big Ten nixed the arrangement.
In a statement attributed to athletic director Bill Moos and chancellor Ronnie Green, Nebraska said it did “explore the possibility of securing a non-conference game” for Saturday, and only had discussions with teams that “had already implemented stricter testing protocols than those mandated by the Big Ten.”
ESPN is reporting that Chattanooga tested all of its players and staff members on Wednesday, all of which came back negative, and held another round of testing Thursday morning. The plan was for additional rounds of testing once the Chattanooga party arrived in Lincoln, but that plan could not come to fruition due to the Big Ten’s decision.
“Those details were non-negotiable if we were to bring a non-conference opponent to Lincoln,” the statement said.
“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. 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.”
In their statement, the Nebraska officials said they “respect” the Big Ten’s decision to not approve the game.
“Ultimately, the Big Ten Conference did not approve our request, and we respect their decision,” the Nebraska statement said. “We are excited to move forward with preparations for the rest of the season, beginning with next week’s game at Northwestern.”
Chattanooga athletic director Mark Wharton told CBS that Nebraska had “guaranteed” payment in the range of $200,000 to $250,000 for the game. Chattanooga, an FCS program, played its first game over the weekend, losing 13-10 to Western Kentucky. Chattanooga is a member of the Southern Conference, which moved its season to the spring, beginning Feb. 20.
Nebraska: Teams should be able to add non-con games
When the Big Ten decided to play a 2020 season — after initially postponing it — it arranged a conference-only format without any bye weeks. Interruptions due to COVID-19 have been common in other conferences, and the Wisconsin-Nebraska cancellation was the first to hit the Big Ten. Wisconsin said Wednesday that 12 people within its program, six players and six coaches, have tested positive. That group includes head coach Paul Chryst.
In the statement from Moos and Green, Nebraska said it believes the ability to add non-conference games could be “beneficial” for the Big Ten.
"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 school’s statement said. “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.”
When the Big Ten initially voted to postpone fall sports, Nebraska was one of the three schools (along with Iowa and Ohio State) that opposed the decision. The university was very outspoken in its quest to have the season played. There was even a group of Huskers players that filed a lawsuit against the conference. A court filing related to that lawsuit was what revealed the Big Ten’s 11-3 vote. Before that point, an exact tally had not been divulged publicly.
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