LINCOLN — Nebraska’s contract to play a college football game with the University of Akron allows the agreement to be voided in the event of “disaster” or even a “tropical storm.”
And while that might take some of the heat off Akron, it also, according to one local attorney, opens the door for NU officials to avoid paying the full $1.17 million that Akron was due.
The NU Athletic Department released the game contract Monday as public discontent over the cancellation of Saturday’s game continued to simmer.
Of note in the contract language is item No. 9, which includes the circumstances in which the agreement would be void because the game was canceled by disaster, fire, war, terrorism, earthquake or calamities including rebellion, insurrection or confiscation of Memorial Stadium by order of government.
Among the weather-related items, only “tropical storm,” “hurricane” and “flood” are mentioned. Thunderstorms and lightning — which canceled Saturday night’s game — are not mentioned, and neither are tornadoes.
In item No. 10, the contract says that if either team fails to play the game for reasons other than those listed in No. 9, the party at fault will owe the other $1 million.
Such natural disaster language, common in contracts, is known by the French term “force majeure,” according to attorney Dave Domina of Omaha. Its purpose is to acknowledge that something could happen that makes performance by either party impossible, and if that does happen the sides won’t sue each other, Domina said.
“It’s designed to be a no-fault walk-away clause for things like exactly what happened,” he said.
The clause would have been clearer, in this case, if item No. 9 said “storm” instead of “tropical storm,” he said.
“You know you always look back at those after the horrific thing happens and say, ‘Gee, why didn’t I use this word?’” he said.
But Domina said given the circumstances a court probably wouldn’t nitpick and would decide based on the facts that the game was unplayable.
“I would guess that a court would decide that the game could not be played with the risk that was posed to the lives of the players and the fans and the coaches at the time that one was about to start,” he said. “I would think that that would be a legitimate walk-away provision.”
Omaha attorney Robert Slovek of the Kutak Rock law firm said he can see legal arguments on both sides.
“The term ‘disaster’ is the linchpin,” Slovek said. “This is the stuff lawsuits are made of.”
The contract also spells out Nebraska’s financial obligation — if the game were played.
It said NU would pay Akron $1.17 million “following the scheduled game.” The full payment would have been due by March 1, 2019, had the game been played, but Nebraska officials have repeatedly said the financial details are “to be determined.”
If the contract is voided and no rescheduled game is in sight, Nebraska may not owe Akron the $1.17 million after all.
Domina said Akron may be paid travel expenses. But he said, “I don’t think it gets the fruits of completing the contract.”
Nebraska wanted to play the game Sunday morning and, according to coach Scott Frost, had figured out some kind of accommodation that might have worked. On Sunday, The World-Herald reported that NU was exploring using empty floors in on-campus dorms to house Akron.
“We were scrambling trying to find a place for them to stay,” Frost said at a press conference Monday. “We kind of found a place, but it certainly wouldn’t have been ideal for his team to not know where they’re eating, not know where they’re staying, not know where everybody is.”
Frost said he understood, too, why Akron made that choice and he may have made the same decision if he were Zips coach Terry Bowden.
Heading into the night, Frost didn’t expect the game to be canceled. He’d lived in Nebraska for a good chunk of his life. He’d seen summer thunderstorms pop up, do their damage and break up within an evening.
“Usually when thunderstorms roll through, the front goes through and maybe another pocket pops up, but you’re still going to have the fireworks on the Fourth of July after the storm’s over,” Frost said. “This one seemed to be tracking right by Lancaster County and wouldn’t give up.”
Mark Rudner, the Big Ten’s senior associate commissioner, said the conference’s command center was in contact with Nebraska all night. The Big Ten also was talking with Fox Sports, the broadcaster of the game.
Rudner personally had a call with NU Athletic Director Bill Moos and Zips Athletic Director Larry Williams between 8 and 9 p.m., he said. Sometime after 10, there was a brief moment when it appeared Nebraska and Akron might play at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. The announcement ran on FS1. NU officials even heard it was going to happen. But Akron never agreed. The FS1 ticker, Rudner said, was a mistake.
“They jumped the gun,” Rudner said. “They jumped the gun on that.”
On the football side, Frost has been here before. For a third straight season, he’s coached a college football team that had a game canceled because of weather. For a second straight season, he faces the possibility of his team losing its bye week to play a makeup game.
The situation is not ideal, Frost said. He’d rather Nebraska didn’t play 11 straight weeks like Central Florida was forced to do last year.
But NU is exploring options to play teams on its Oct. 27 bye week if necessary, Frost said.
“Depth is a little bit of an issue for us at certain positions, and it’s certainly not ideal for us,” Frost said. “I know they’re researching and looking at all options, but given the choice, these guys have worked so hard. They deserve to play a full slate of games. So if they give us an option to fill that game in somewhere, we’re going to take it.”
Akron does not have a bye week on Oct. 27. Nebraska would have to find a team whose bye week is Oct. 27 and doesn’t already have 12 regular-season games on its schedule.
One team that does have a bye week Oct. 27 is Liberty, coached by former Husker quarterback Turner Gill. The Flames are now in the FBS division as an independent team. To fill its 12-game schedule, Liberty scheduled another independent team, New Mexico State, twice, on Oct. 6 and Nov. 24. The latter of the two is a Liberty home game.
Another option for a 12th game would be for NU to play Dec. 1, which is the same day as the Big Ten championship. The Huskers would prefer to play for their conference title over playing a nonconference foe, but a potential makeup date with Akron would be possible, Williams said, if either team needs to play the game to become bowl eligible.
If Nebraska wants to schedule a 12th game on its bye week or Dec. 1, the school merely needs to tell the Big Ten, Rudner said.
“They just inform us,” Rudner said Monday. “They say, ‘Listen, we’re going to play Oct. 27 against anybody who might have a bye date.’ Or if they wanted to try to resume the game with Akron at some point on Dec. 1, there’s nothing that can prevent that from happening, either. I think we’d want to be consulted, so we could help with that. But it’s really up to the institution to tell us what they want to do.”
Nebraska sees itself in Colorado; Players were prepared to ‘wreak some havoc’
LINCOLN — Nebraska had a small advantage of not having any game tape for Colorado to scout, Scott Frost said, but it wasn’t as big of an advantage as CU having played a game.
The Buffaloes beat Colorado State 45-13. Frost said Colorado looked good in all three phases.
“They’re coached very well,” Frost said. “You don’t see them out of position ever. They’ve got a middle linebacker that made a bunch of plays, some really good guys on the secondary, some good guys up front.
“I think schematically they do some really good things on offense, had two receivers that played really well and a quarterback that had great numbers.”
Playing Colorado, Frost said, would be a bit like looking into the mirror. NU and CU run similar spread offenses and 3-4 defenses, Frost said. The similarities would help Nebraska prepare, Frost said, despite not having played a game.
Frost said he didn’t think players would want to hear much about Nebraska’s old rivalry with Colorado.
“There’s enough going on with what happened last weekend, with this being our first game now, we don’t need to probably talk much about a Colorado rivalry, but I got great memories of it,” Frost said.
Huskers expect preparation to carry over
Tanner Farmer waited nearly 10 months to get back onto the field. And when he and the Huskers ran out of the tunnel on Saturday, they were ready. More ready than ever.
“That was, by far, the most prepared I’ve ever been for a game, mentally and physically,” Farmer said. “I’ve never felt that good before a game, and I felt like I was just ready to go out and wreak some havoc.”
It wasn’t just the wait. Farmer said the way practice is set up now, he feels more prepared to read defenses, make calls and be a better football player overall. Tight end Jack Stoll said he felt the same way.
“When we were running out there, I think that was the most prepared we’ve ever been,” Stoll said. “I expect that to be the same on Saturday against Colorado.”
Huskers got ‘all dressed up for nothing.’ Now they’re eager for real season opener
LINCOLN — Sunday wasn’t all that different from usual for the Nebraska football team. Players came for meals and watched some film on Colorado. Coaches schemed and spent time with visiting recruits.
The only hole in the routine? No game tape of themselves to watch from the night before.
Senior Peyton Newell compared the canceled season opener to the feeling of being put in timeout as a kid. Classmate Luke Gifford called it a “buzzkill.” Quarterback Adrian Martinez described the disappointment of his entire family flying in from California only to see persistent thunderstorms wipe out the game.
“I get to be mad on Sunday,” senior offensive lineman Jerald Foster said, “and I need to be ready on Monday.”
The Huskers were more than ready for their first workout of the new week by all accounts. They began preparation for Colorado — their old Big Seven, Big Eight and Big 12 rival — with a practice that coach Scott Frost said was one of the best Mondays he’s ever seen a team have. It was the best he’s seen Martinez perform in any practice since the true freshman arrived in the spring.
During a brisk Labor Day press conference that lasted barely 12 minutes, Frost said Colorado’s spread offense and aggressive 3-4 defense share many traits with what Nebraska wants to do. But while the Buffs won’t have any film of the Huskers to study, Nebraska doesn’t own any game experience entering its toughest nonconference tilt against a Power Five school that rolled to a 45-13 win over Colorado State last weekend.
“The challenge is you don’t get the benefit of your first game going into the second one,” Frost said. “Most coaches will say you improve the most between Game One and Game Two. We don’t get the benefit of that, so we’re going to have to make up for it in practice.”
As impressed as Frost was by his players Monday, he was equally effusive about their composure as thunderstorms raged around Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.
The coach counted six times he addressed the team during the delay:
1. Stay ready and relax.
2. Take your shoes and pads off because this could take a while.
3. We don’t know what’s going to happen.
4. This game might not go tonight.
5. This game might play Sunday.
6. This game will likely play Sunday, so go get some sleep and be back at 6 a.m. for breakfast.
And finally a text message: No game.
“We got all dressed up for nothing,” Frost said. “… A couple guys were yelling out, ‘Let’s just play in the Hawks (Center),’ which would have been epic but probably not safe.”
Frost — who dryly called the Tunnel Walk “the best part of the night” — said his coaching staff joked about being snake-bitten by Mother Nature. Hurricanes forced cancellations in each of their two seasons at UCF. Then Saturday marked the first weather-related wipeout of a football game in Nebraska history.
Martinez said he didn’t need the dress rehearsal of sorts that was forced on the team. He felt he was ready. He liked the first play call and slumped a bit when officials ran onto the field to stop what would have been his first collegiate snap.
“You could just say it was gonna be a good one,” Martinez said of the play. “We felt pretty good about it.”
Now Nebraska is crafting a new plan for a new foe. What has already been a long offseason stretches another week and marks the longest layoff between football games (288 days) since going 301 days between the 1968 and 1969 seasons.
Players said — knock on wood — they’re ready to get past the kickoff this time.
“It kind of was a bizarre weekend for us,” senior Mick Stoltenberg said. “It was good to just kind of get back to the work and stop thinking about all that. We’re glad to be on to a new thing, put all that behind us.”
Trio of seniors from Nebraska are proud to be Husker captains
LINCOLN — Three Nebraska captains took the podium to speak to media members Monday afternoon. And they all had something in common.
“We’re fifth-year guys, fifth-year seniors, all from the state of Nebraska,” nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg said. “I think it’s an awesome, awesome tradition we’re kind of keeping going.”
Stoltenberg (Gretna) and former Lincoln Southeast teammates Jerald Foster and Luke Gifford were voted captains along with wide receiver Stanley Morgan late last week before coach Scott Frost announced it in a team meeting. The news came as a surprise to players and outsiders considering Frost had said only days before that Nebraska might go with week-by-week captains this season.
All three Nebraska natives grew up Husker fans.
“Man, I can’t even explain it to you,” Gifford said. “Literally a dream come true; (I’ve) been thinking about it ever since I was little. And to know that that’s what the guys think of me and that I’m able to represent them is awesome.”
Foster, a two-time captain, said it’s “extraordinary” to serve in a leadership role with friends he’s known and trusted for so long.
Husker walk-on Q&A: Backup center Hunter Miller believed he ‘belonged with the big dogs’
Redshirt freshman Hunter Miller spent time as the Huskers’ No. 1 center this spring. Now the 6-foot-4, 325-pound lineman from Stromsburg, Nebraska, is listed behind former walk-on Cole Conrad of Fremont on the depth chart.
Below is an interview conducted Monday with Miller, who has gained 50 pounds since coming to Nebraska and hopes to continue having a big role on the Husker line:
Q: There have been a lot of walk-on offensive linemen from small-town Nebraska. You are now one of them. How much does that matter to you?
A: It pushes you. I know in high school I was hearing about this kid named Cole Conrad who was a walk-on playing right tackle and getting in the game. It is something that you hear about, and you always imagine that is going to be you.
Q: What kind of emotions were going though you prior to the game Saturday?
A: That is what I’ve been waiting for my whole life. I was the kid with the Husker room and the posters on my wall looking up to guys on the team. When it came to the moment that was me, I was sitting on the bus on the way to the stadium thinking this is my time. … It was a surreal feeling.
Q: What is the message you have for the kid growing up in Stromsburg about how hard it is to get to where you are?
A: It boils down to hard work. If you are willing to put in the work then you will get the opportunity. I know this coaching staff wants in-state walk-ons here. If they get that opportunity and you love Nebraska football, don’t pass it up, because you will regret it for the rest of your life.
Q: Has it sunk in that you are a walk-on, listed on the depth chart and saw time as the starting center in the spring? Or is that something you always expected?
A: I kind of always expected it. In high school I thought my abilities were overlooked because I was coming from an eight-man school. When I got here I knew that I belonged with the big dogs and I could roll with them.
Q: What offers did you have before making the decision to walk-on at Nebraska?
A: I had one FCS offer (Northern Colorado) and one FBS offer (Liberty). I didn’t take any official visits because I knew I wanted to go to Nebraska.
Q: You have put on close to 50 pounds since high school. What do you attribute that to?
A: It’s good weight. I was 275 when I played in the Shrine Bowl before coming here. In high school I was up to 295 my junior year, then I talked to my high school coach and we decided I would be more athletic and better for wrestling (if I) lost some weight, so I changed my body then. You get here, and (Zach) Duval in the weight room, and Dave Ellis keeps force-feeding us, so you don’t really have a choice.