With the Nebraska football team's season opener a little more than a week away, the Huskers and every other school in the Big Ten are awaiting final instructions from the league on how COVID-19 protocols will be handled this season.
That's according to NU athletic director Trev Alberts, who spoke Tuesday at the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce's Face the Chamber event at the Country Club of Lincoln.
"I think there's just a lot of nuance to it, right?" Alberts said. "So (for example) the Big Ten could announce that it's an institutional decision and you have autonomy to handle your own policy as you want. What we don't know is if some local health department said, 'If you don't have mandated this or that, then you can't come into our county.'"
That was an extreme example, Alberts said, and he doesn't expect things to head in that direction. For now, the NU Athletic Department is abiding by the university's COVID-19 policy and working with the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department. Alberts himself had to take a saliva test two days ago, he said.
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Alberts also praised football coach Scott Frost and the rest of Nebraska's coaches for increasing NU's vaccination rate among its athletes.
"We're in a really good position today," Alberts said. "I couldn't honestly say that a month ago. But today I feel really strong about where we are. We're in good shape."
That last point is one Alberts made multiple times Tuesday, both in a 10-minute session with reporters and during his remarks to a full ballroom at the Country Club of Lincoln.
It's an important point, Alberts said, because there is a "reasonable chance" that if a team has to miss a game because of COVID-19 protocols, it will be a forfeit and a loss this season rather than a no-contest, as was the case with Big Ten events last season.
Alberts said NU and the rest of the Big Ten's schools have responded to a questionnaire from the league on how each institution is approaching its COVID-19 strategy. Those responses are being combined, and a plan being developed.
That jibes with what Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said at last month's Big Ten media days, when he was asked about the league's plan for the upcoming season.
"We’ll get that information in early August, we’ll combine it, and then we’ll get together with our chancellors and presidents and other key constituents to make the determination as far as how we handle the fall," Warren said at the time.
The biggest challenge, Alberts said, will be coming up with a plan that can match up with the different health department mandates in a conference that spreads from Nebraska to New Jersey.
"It's pretty difficult to mandate certain things when you don't reside in the locale where they originate," Alberts said. "So like anything, there are legal challenges to any possible thing you could possibly do.
"So the real hope and goal is, is that every athletic department, every health department, has a very good, solid, COVID-19 response plan and protocols in place."
Alberts feels good about Nebraska's plan, he said, after the school worked with the same people that helped shepherd NU through the beginning stages of the pandemic: University Nebraska Medical Center Drs. Steven Hinrichs, Chris Kratochvil, and Scott Koepsell.
That plan will soon be posted to Nebraska's website, Alberts said, and like nearly everything else over the last year and a half, that plan could change any day.
"Our goal is to have the most student-athletes we can possibly have healthy to play in a game," Alberts said. "Because if that's the case, that gives us the best chance we have to win.
"At the end of the day, we need to try to win."
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