University of Nebraska-Lincoln regents reached early Sunday afternoon by The World-Herald all praised the athletic department’s handling of a weather delay that ultimately led to the cancellation of the Huskers’ season-opening football game against Akron.
Where they differ is regarding what should happen next.
Bob Phares of North Platte, Hal Daub of Omaha and Tim Clare of Lincoln were like other fans Saturday — ready to take in the debut of the Scott Frost era. Daub attended the tailgates of Gov. Pete Ricketts and NU Chancellor Ronnie Green. Clare arrived at Memorial Stadium and couldn’t recall seeing the stands so full half an hour before a kickoff in his 45 years attending games.
Lightning flashed nearby at 7:15 p.m. — officials stopped action after Nebraska received the opening kickoff on a touchback — and a 2-hour, 40-minute delay ensued before the official cancellation was announced.
“We were all disappointed because we were anxious to see the first game of the season,” Phares said, adding that he would have been willing to return Sunday if the game had been pushed back. “But the safety of the players and the fans is the first priority.”
Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos echoed that sentiment in a statement issued late Sunday afternoon. He called the Saturday night situation “fluid,” adding that contingency plans discussed by officials included a scenario in which Akron and Nebraska would have played Sunday.
“Unfortunately, Akron faced some logistical challenges and the decision was made to cancel the game,” Moos said.
The statement adds that NU will “explore and discuss” potential additions or adjustments to the fall schedule. Fans are encouraged to hold onto their tickets from the Akron game in case a game is added later. The Huskers’ open date is Oct. 27.
Said Moos: “At this point, everyone’s focus and attention has moved onto preparation for opening our season against Colorado on Saturday afternoon.”
Daub said he’s heard from multiple fans since they left under tumultuous skies late Saturday. His main takeaway is people hope there is a rescheduling of the contest — or at least an effort not to lose one of 12 regular-season games.
Nebraska and every Division I program must earn six victories to become bowl eligible. The perception — from fans and oddsmakers alike — was that Akron represented one of NU’s best chances at a triumph this fall.
“We need the wins; it’s above my pay grade to know how they go about rescheduling,” Daub said. “I don’t know the mechanics of what staging a game costs to know whether it makes sense from a financial point of view to insert a game midweek. But that would be an option.”
Clare said he would prefer Nebraska have a game under its belt before hosting Colorado next Saturday. He recognizes why fans want the game played, but also said fitting it in Sunday or later in the season could present an injury risk to players.
“Before too long, you start trying to fit a square peg in a round hole,” Clare said. “Let’s focus on the other 11 games and let’s focus on one practice at a time.”
None of the regents knew whether the university would issue its planned payout of $1.17 million to Akron, especially after The World-Herald reported that Akron elected to leave entirely late Saturday.
“I don’t blame either institution for not playing,” Clare said, “just because the logistics are so hard to work out.”
The overall situation was far less certain through most of Sunday than another cancellation that occurred 225 miles east in Ames, Iowa. The Cyclones managed 4 minutes and 5 seconds of game action with South Dakota State on Saturday night and led 7-0 before lightning sent players back to the locker rooms and began a 2-hour, 25-minute delay that ended in the game being called.
ISU A.D. Jamie Pollard spoke with media members shortly thereafter to explain the situation. Weather didn’t look favorable for Sunday, and neither coach wanted to move the event back a day and alter the following week’s schedule. SDSU would receive its full $425,000 payout for traveling. The schools’ bye weeks didn’t match up, so the Cyclones would begin looking for a different FCS opponent to fill their open date Oct. 20.
Pollard also said any players serving a suspension for the game — ISU had three who were set to sit out just one week — would be eligible to play against Iowa next Saturday.
The only unclear point, Pollard said, was regarding ticket sales refunds. Those tickets could potentially go toward the new opponent if the game is made up. Like Nebraska, Iowa State hasn’t canceled a game in more than a generation. The John F. Kennedy assassination last prompted the school to scrap a game in November 1963.
Clare said the big-picture view of Nebraska football won’t change because of a thunderstorm cell. Hang in there, he encouraged fans, and get ready for a fun season. And hang onto those Akron tickets too. Just in case.
“Everybody was just pumped, and rightfully so,” Daub said. “We still are. I don’t think this is going to dent enthusiasm for terrific fan base support for the team going forward. As a matter of fact, you might see the spring get wound a little tighter. The Colorado game is going to be a hoot.”