Feit: Digesting a B1G, Wild Week

This week has seen a month’s worth of drama after the Big Ten announced they are postponing the fall sports season until the spring.  Here is a quick – and by no means complete – timeline of events:

 

Wednesday, August 5:  The Big Ten releases the 2020 conference football schedule, along with a five page “executive summary” of COVID-19 medical protocols.  Essentially, this was the conference’s plan to have a Big Ten season starting September 5, as well as the steps the conference’s Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases (chaired by a UNMC doctor) felt were necessary to play as safely as possible.

 

Friday, August 7:  Nebraska starts their fall camp.

 

Sunday, August 9:  ESPN reports the Big Ten presidents met, and were considering cancelling the fall sports season.

 

Monday, August 10:  Scott Frost conducts a 30 minute media session via Zoom.  Among the things Frost said:

* “We’re a proud member of the Big Ten. I think it’s the best conference in the country. We want to play a Big Ten schedule.”

* “Our university is committed to playing no matter what. No matter what that looks like. We want to play no matter who it is or where it is. So we’ll see how those chips fall. We certainly hope it’s in the Big Ten, but if it isn’t, we’re prepared to look for other options.”

 

Tuesday, August 11:  This is when everything hit the fan:

* The Big Ten postponed the 2020 fall sports season.

* Nebraska’s leadership (President Ted Carter, Chancellor Ronnie Green, Athletic Director Bill Moos, and Frost) issues a statement saying:  “We are very disappointed in the decision by the Big Ten Conference to postpone the fall football season, as we have been and continue to be ready to play.  Safety comes first. Based on the conversations with our medical experts, we continue to strongly believe the absolute safest place for our student athletes is within the rigorous safety protocols, testing procedures, and the structure and support provided by Husker Athletics.  We will continue to consult with medical experts and evaluate the situation as it emerges. We hope it may be possible for our student athletes to have the opportunity to compete.”

* In a live interview with Dave Revsine of BTN, Commissioner Kevin Warren was asked twice about teams playing games outside of the conference.  Warren issued a lengthy non-answer.

* Later, in an interview with Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports, Warren issued a more emphatic answer of “No.  Not and be a member of the Big Ten Conference.”

 

Late Tuesday > Wednesday, August 12:  Tensions escalated as ESPN personalities (and Big Ten alumni) Michael Wilbon and Desmond Howard gave fiery statements not so politely telling Nebraska to leave the Big Ten. A Big XII official was quoted as saying Nebraska would be welcomed back with “open arms”.  Local writers and radio hosts discussed the possibility of leaving Big Ten, as well as the perceived hypocrisy of calling out Nebraska for wanting to play this fall when the coach of the league’s flagship team (Ohio State’s Ryan Day) also stated his desire to play this fall.  National writers appeared to be in a contest to see who could publish the hottest take on what Frost and Nebraska could do with their perceived ultimatum.

 

Whew.

 

Before things spiral even farther out of control, I need everybody – EVERYBODY – to stop, take a deep breath, and have a look in the mirror.  Recognize the things you have done and are continuing to do to make this situation bigger than it needs to be.

 

If you need some help with the necessary introspection, I am happy to help.

 

Side note:  I am intentionally going to avoid diving into the discussion on whether or not it is safe, realistic, or feasible for college football to occur – in any form – in 2020.  By now, we all have our thoughts on the pandemic, how it has impacted our lives, and who you blame/credit for where we are today.  Dipping a single toe into that water will undoubtedly taint the points I want to make and turn this into a political melee.  For the sake of this column, assume my thoughts on COVID-19 match yours.

 

These are in no particular order, but we will start at the top.

 

Commissioner Kevin Warren

 

I understand 2020 is the absolute worst year imaginable to run a sports league, start a stressful new job, or replace a genuine legend.  You are doing all three.

 

I don’t think anybody expect you to be Jim Delany 2.0, but I think I speak for most of the conference when I was hoping you would not be Dan Beebe, Jr.

 

In “these unprecedented times”, there are no right answers. The decisions you make have real, significant impacts on people – their health and/or livelihood.  Therefore, the best course of action for you is to be honest and transparent.

 

If you feel “postponing” the fall season is best for the safety of the student-athletes, give me detailed information on how and why you reached that decision – ESPECIALLY when it comes six days after you released a ten game schedule.  Something clearly changed. Tell us what it was – preferably in a single sentence.

 

Be open, honest, and direct with us, the fans and alumni of the schools you hope to lead.

 

Instead, when Dave Revsine asked you a question about schools playing their own schedule you gave a 213 word “answer” that said absolutely nothing.  As Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star noted, your strategy is “seemingly to talk and talk and talk until you’ve forgotten the question.”

 

This is not leadership.

 

If you need to punt on a question, say so.

 

After all, that’s essentially what you have done by “postponing” football until the spring.

 

 

Michael Wilbon & Desmond Howard

 

I get it. You are both alums of long-time Big Ten schools (Northwestern and Michigan). You probably turn your nose up at a school like Nebraska, who came in with a lot of fanfare (and, admittedly, a healthy ego) but hasn’t backed it up.  You are also employed by ESPN, who holds Big Ten media rights.

 

Two things:

  1. Nobody from the University of Nebraska has suggested, hinted at, alluded to, or otherwise threatened to leave the conference.  It is unprofessional – if not completely untrue – to say they are “leaving” as Howard did.
  2. Is your beef with Nebraska that they said they want to play, you know, like Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State have done this week?  Or that Nebraska did not embrace the B1G tradition of dissenting in private, while publicly putting on a happy face?

 

I get that the ESPN model essentially requires you to say outlandish, attention-grabbing things whenever you are on camera.  But that does not give you license to manufacture stories or flat out lie.

 

Regardless, I expect you have already found out that “Nebraska Nice” ends when you say stupid things.  Fortunately, you each have prior experience with making stupid comments.

 

 

National college football media

 

Once Kevin Warren finally decided to answer a question directly – to Yahoo! Sports of all places – it kicked off a nation-wide competition to see which writer could deliver the most scathing take-down of Nebraska.  Pete Thamel, Pat Forde, and Dan Wolken all submitted entries.  In the contest rules, points were awarded for the following:

* Use of rural hick stereotypes.

* Time spent kissing up to Kevin Warren and the Big Ten.

* Hate clicks originating from the 402 area code.

* Painting NU as an ungrateful, rogue program hell-bent on leaving the Big Ten.

* Speculating on how Jim Delany would have handled dissention in the ranks.

* Ignoring the other Big Ten powers who also want to play this fall.

* Calling Nebraska a “has-been” while ignoring the irony of working for Yahoo! or Sports Illustrated in 2020.

 

I won’t reward their collective garbage with links to their work.  Because in this contest there are no winners.

 

Only losers.

 

 

 

Local media

 

As always, the reporting and coverage of the events has been excellent.  Where things have come up short has been the speculation that Nebraska could leave the B1G for the XII.  Steven M. Sipple of the Journal-Star did not dismiss it as a foolish rumor, saying “All I’ll say now is it’d be premature to rule it out.”

 

Up in Omaha, Tom Shatel went all-in saying “Will we remember this as the beginning of the end of Nebraska and the Big Ten?  Absolutely.”  C’mon Tom. I think you got caught up in the heat of the moment.

 

I have frequently gone to battle defending the good name of those working the Huskers beat because I truly feel we are spoiled by both the high level of talent, as well as the amazing depth.  But those of you who are giving serious credence to the idea that Nebraska would leave the Big Ten need to take a pause before firing off your next take.

 

At the very least, any local media member – and this includes the large number of radio hosts in Lincoln and Omaha – should be reminded of the flowing, glowing, this-is-the-greatest-decision-in-the-history-of-decisions praise they put out when Nebraska escaped the Big XII for the prestige, stability, and financial windfall of the Big Ten.

 

 

 

Ted Carter, Ronnie Green, and Bill Moos

 

Like Commissioner Warren, you are also in a very difficult position.  On one hand, I am confident you know how important Nebraska Football is to the financial well-being of the Athletic Department, the University, Lincoln, and the state of Nebraska.  On Monday, Frost estimated a loss of $80 – $120 million if the season is lost.

 

On the other hand, I am sure you appreciate the many benefits of membership in the Big Ten.  According to USA Today, Nebraska received $55.6 million from the Big Ten in the 2019 fiscal year – more than any other conference.  On the academic side – you know, the reason the University purports to exist – the benefits of a decade in the Big Ten are beginning to bear fruit.

 

Gentlemen, my advice to you is to be extremely cautious about throwing away long-term stability for short-term rewards.  Especially when the prospects of short-term rewards are, at best, uncertain.

 

In no way, shape, or form am I suggesting that you need to apologize to the conference or Commissioner Warren – publicly or privately.  There is no shame in standing up for the best interests of our University – even if it goes against the “all for one and one for all” unified front the Big Ten loves to show off.  Your statement saying “The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a fully committed member of the Big Ten Conference. It is an unparalleled athletic and academic alliance,” is more than enough to put this faux-controversy to bed.

 

 

 

 

Scott Frost

 

I admire and appreciate your passion, your desire to play, and how your rationale goes beyond the ‘I’m a football coach and I want to coach football’ mindset shown by some of your peers.  I truly believe you have the best interest of your players at heart.  If you felt – or the experts at UNMC told you – it was not safe for them to be in Lincoln, they would not be here.  Period.

 

Regardless of what the national voices may say, I don’t feel like you have crossed any line or issued any ultimatums. You can honestly tell your players, their parents – and most importantly, those precious recruits – that you will go to battle for them.  When your passion for this place fades, we’ll be in real trouble.

 

Until there is a game on your schedule, keep the team healthy, hungry, and slightly threatened by the four star kid coming in to take their job.  Also, figure out how to do an amazing “official visit” via Zoom without a home game to showcase.

 

 

 

 

Husker Fans

 

As always, I saved the best for last.

 

The reason Nebraska is fighting so hard to play football is mainly due to the financial rewards it can reap.  Those rewards are because of people like you and me who buy the tickets, wear the Adidas gear, devour the content, and defend the school to the bitter end against any injustice or slight.

 

We pride ourselves on being some of the most knowledgeable fans in football.  And now is the time to act like it.

 

Stop saying Nebraska should leave the Big Ten.

 

Am I the only one getting déjà vu over fans complaining about unfair treatment, being outvoted by peers, a double standard for the star school, and a commissioner that “hates us”?  Because that is what we did for years in the Big XII.  I don’t know about you, but the us-against-the-world mentality of the Big XII was exhausting.

 

I’m not saying Kevin Warren was right.  I’m not saying Warren has been a great leader in his first few months on the job.  And I’m definitely not saying Nebraska should “shut up and fall in line” like the other schools in the conference.  But the league is not out to get Nebraska.  They stand to benefit – greatly – from Nebraska becoming a national power again.

 

Ignore the national voices trolling for clicks, and spreading conspiracy garbage like Thamel’s assertion that NU will draw a road schedule of “Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan as a reminder of who is in charge.”  Does Nebraska play Ohio State a lot?  Yep.  Do the conference’s TV partners pay billions of dollars to broadcast Ohio State vs Nebraska or Rutgers vs Illinois?  You better believe it.

 

Mainly, my fellow fans, I would ask you to be patient and understanding during this bat-spit crazy year.  The amount of knowledge we have on COVID-19 – its causes, impact, and treatment – grows exponentially every day.  That will naturally lead to abrupt changes, and reversals of course.  Keep pushing those in leadership to provide us with full, unfiltered, factual information instead of word salad answers.

 

If you choose to wear a mask, socially distance, and wash your dadgum hands, the experts believe that will help too.