A whirlwind 24 hours in college football has left players, fans and universities with more questions than answers in regards to whether or not there will be a season in 2020.
Despite all the uncertainty, Nebraska head coach Scott Frost made one thing clear in his press conference on Monday afternoon: the university will try its best to play football in the fall.
“I have a group of players that I love, and I ask them all the time to fight for us on the football field. Sometimes, it’s the head coaches’ responsibility to fight for what they want too,” Frost said. “Our football players want to play, our coaches want to coach, we want to play football here at the University of Nebraska.”
Frost’s comments come hours after a report from the Detroit Free Press said that high-ranking sources within the Big Ten expect the conference to cancel the football season in an official announcement on Tuesday. According to Dan Patrick, university presidents voted 12-2 against having a fall college football season, with Nebraska and Iowa being the only schools voting in favor of playing.
With a Big Ten season in doubt, Frost entertained the idea of the Huskers looking elsewhere for opponents. He noted that his players could be ready for a game “in about a week” and said that while the university is a proud member of the Big Ten, the Huskers could face a new set of opponents if the Big Ten slate is cancelled and Nebraska wants to move forward with fall football.
“We want to play no matter who it is or where it is,” Frost said. “We certainly hope it’s in the Big Ten, if it isn’t I think we’re prepared to look for other options.”
Senior cornerback Dicaprio Bootle, senior offensive lineman Matt Farniok and junior quarterback Adrian Martinez echoed Frost’s sentiments about playing any and all competition, and doing so safely.
“We want to be able to represent the Big Ten, but if the Big Ten chooses to cancel, we are 100% open to playing whoever wants to play,” Farniok said.
One of the more powerful moments of Frost’s 30-minute media session came when he discussed the importance of keeping his players safe during these unprecedented times. He said that while he can’t release how many Husker football players contracted COVID-19, he did say that the vast majority of them caught the virus outside of the structured environment of the Nebraska football facility.
Frost may have a point there. Rutgers, Nebraska’s first scheduled opponent on Sept. 5, is dealing with a program-wide outbreak that allegedly started when players attended an off-campus party. There’s certainly a case to be made that players are more in danger of contracting the virus if they’re forced to go back home as opposed to staying on campus.
“I feel 100% certain that the safest place for our players in regards to coronavirus is right here where there’s structure, testing and medical supervision,” Frost said. “Here [players] have motivation to make smart decisions to stay away from the virus because if they don’t, they’ll lose their opportunity to play football.”
Frost went on to cite Nebraska’s frequent screening and resources available if someone contracts the virus, players falling out of their nutrition and sleeping routines, academic support and mental health screening as pivotal resources players will miss out on if they’re sent back home.
Unlike most Big Ten presidents, Big Ten coaches appear to be on the same page as Frost when it comes to having a football season. In his dealings with other coaches in the conference, he said that “every coach” he's talked to wants to have a season.
A number of players across the nation appear to agree with this sentiment. Clemson junior quarterback Trevor Lawrence started a massive movement on social media with the #WeWantToPlay hashtag. Martinez, Bootle and Farniok expressed their support for the movement, saying they want to play football in the fall if it is possible to do so.
“I think it’s a general consensus across the college football landscape,” Martinez said. “We want to play football, and I know for a fact Nebraska is taking care of us here. We’re going to do whatever we can to find a way to play.”
If the coronavirus ends up postponing or cancelling college football, universities will be faced with several unpleasant budget decisions in their respective athletic departments. Multiple college sports programs have already been cut due to coronavirus-related budget cuts, and Frost fears the same could happen at Nebraska.
The university is slated to lose $80-$120 million if the football season is cancelled, according to Frost. He said he “doesn’t know” how many sports programs will be able to exist if Nebraska loses out on that much money, adding that people’s jobs will be in jeopardy within athletic departments as well.
“The biggest factor if we don’t play football is that we won’t be able to pay for anything until we start making money again,” Frost said. “Our number one priority is the health and safety of our kids but I want to be able to field a team next year.”
In the interim, a number of Frost’s current players were undeterred by reports that the football season had been cancelled—another bump in the “rollercoaster ride” Bootle compared the last few months to. It’s still unclear what will happen over the next 24-48 hours but what was made crystal clear on Monday afternoon is that Frost’s team wants to give the college football season a go.
“Right now we’re focused on playing the fall,” Bootle said. “If that gets ruled out then we can focus on playing in the spring but as of right now we’re focused on the fall and trying to make a season happen.”