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From Kevin Warren to Chattanooga, an inside look at how Bill Moos, Huskers tried to play football Saturday
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HUSKER FOOTBALL
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From Kevin Warren to Chattanooga, an inside look at how Bill Moos, Huskers tried to play football Saturday

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Bill Moos' anxiety level rose at about 7:45 a.m. Thursday when he got a text from UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green.

Green had been making the case to the Big Ten's Council of Presidents and Chancellors as to why Nebraska — and, for that matter, any league team that found itself in the same position later in the season — should be able to fill in a nonconference opponent for Saturday to replace a home game against Wisconsin, which was canceled due to a rising number of positive COVID-19 tests in the UW program.

“When he texted me and said they were still discussing it, then I started to get somewhat hopeful and encouraged,” said Moos, who thought the majority of the hourlong meeting was spent on the topic.

Then came the deflation when the council shut down the proposal.

That served as the final pang of disappointment in a roller-coaster 26 hours, which began with an early-morning Wednesday call from UW athletic director Barry Alvarez, included a conversation with Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren and ultimately ended with the Huskers left without a game to play this weekend. As such, NU will enter the 10th week of college football being played around the country this fall having played once.

It all started when Alvarez called to tell the Nebraska athletic director that UW had a budding COVID-19 outbreak and the decision-makers in Madison didn't think it was prudent for the Badgers to come to Lincoln to play.

“Barry’s a classy guy and he wanted me to hear it from him before he announced it to our AD Zoom meeting, which was at 7 a.m.,” Moos said. “That’s the kind of thing Barry would do. He’s a class act and he’s been around the game a long time and he’s got the etiquette and such to do it the right way.”

Moos told the Journal Star on Friday afternoon that he had no issue with UW's decision.

“It was sounding like when Barry called me that they were at (the Big Ten’s automatic trigger for a pause) or very close, and that was early in the week,” Moos said. “All along, we’ve known that Wisconsin was just a bit, as a university — not saying Barry or (coach) Paul Chryst — cautious and a bit hesitant to go ahead and go on with the season, and that’s understandable because look at the spikes they’re having right now. I can understand that part of it.”

The state of Wisconsin this week alone has seen more than 20,000 new cases and 200 deaths, making it overall one of the biggest hot spots in the country currently. Even before setting records in recent days, UW also paused football activities and issued a shelter-in-place order for its dormitories for two weeks in September when cases began rising on campus shortly after the semester began. 

Football Facility, 9.27

Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos addresses the crowd assembled for the announcement of the Huskers' new football facility Sept. 27, 2019, at the East Stadium Plaza.

The frustrating result for the NU athletic director is that he leads a department that was one of the most vocal proponents for getting the Big Ten back on the field this fall and now is party to the first game nixed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

So Moos, coach Scott Frost and the football department started thinking about filling in a lost game almost right away. In fact, NU has kept a list of teams that could be available since earlier this summer, when the Huskers wanted to explore playing first an independent schedule and later potential nonconference games before an October start. Quickly, Football Bowl Subdivision member Tennessee-Chattanooga was identified. 

“The least we could do is take a run at it, and we did,” Moos said. “The very first thing was the testing piece because we’re not playing Big Ten football if the testing protocol hadn’t been approved by the Big Ten chancellors, so it had to be up to snuff and up to par with what the Big Ten was doing, I felt, to even have a chance.

“As it turned out, (Tennessee-Chattanooga) was doing PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests already in anticipation that they’d have the opportunity to come to Lincoln and play.”

NU knew it would need permission from the Big Ten, so Moos and Green had a Wednesday phone conversation with Warren, who agreed to put the matter before the council at its regular monthly meeting, which happened to be 7 a.m. Thursday.

“I was encouraged because he said we could get a communication emailwise, and my feeling was we needed Ronnie to state the case,” Moos said. “It’s like being in a courtroom or whatever, you get a chance to plead your case and hopefully get some support. It was fine and Kevin was good about it, to have it be the first item on the agenda for the presidents and chancellors meeting the next morning.”

Moos was not in on the meeting himself, so he was left to only speculate about why the council did not see a justification for filling in canceled games even though the nine-games-in-nine-weeks arrangement in the Big Ten means no room for reschedules.

“This is just me, but unfortunately we served as the precedent for the rest of the year,” Moos said. “We knew there might be some cancellations, but we never specifically talked about, if there were, could we look elsewhere? So we pressed that issue and got our answer. …

"I think the presidents and chancellors wanted to make that very clear that this is not going to be considered or addressed on a week-to-week basis and this is how it’s going to be.”

It’s that simple?

“You’d have to ask them, I’m speculating, but it was designed to be a conference-only season and I think that’s somewhat how we got permission to play,” Moos said.

The Big Ten has not responded to the Journal Star's requests for comment from Warren or the council's rationale in not allowing nonconference games. 

So, the turbulent middle of the week chalked up to a disappointing one for Nebraska.

That’s not the only iron in the fire for the Athletic Department, of course. Moos is well aware that time is ticking on the men's basketball front in terms of getting a multi-team event finalized in Lincoln, considering the hoops schedule is slated to start as early as Nov. 25. This week, ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchups, set for Dec. 9 and 10, were announced. That, Moos thinks, should clear the way for MTEs, even though questions remain with less than four weeks to go before an event including up to 16 teams could start in Lincoln.

“We’re in discussions on the (COVID-19) testing piece for nonconference games, and isn’t that ironic,” Moos said. 

50 of the greatest moments in Husker football history

Contact the writer at pgabriel@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraPG.

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Husker football reporter

Parker joined the Journal Star as the University of Nebraska football beat writer in August 2017. He previously covered Montana State athletics for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2012.

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