Andy Staples of The Athletic and “The Andy Staples Show” on SiriusXm (and a podcast!) joined me for an episode to talk about all the Nebraska hate that’s going around.
- Why does everyone suddenly hate Nebraska?
- Why Nebraska received a different response from the Big Ten than Ryan Day and Ohio State.
- How realistic is winter/spring football?
- Is Scott Frost the right coach for Nebraska?
- Will anyone play football this fall?
- Should I take back the bad things I called Kevin Warren on twitter?
- Grace and mercy and why they should be extended to decision makers.
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About the Transcript
Keep in mind that the following is a transcript. I use a service that automates the first draft. As much as “artificial intelligence” is included in the description of every bit of technology these days, it’s clear that computers understanding human speech is more artificial than intelligent. The transcript has been edited to take out human speech bites, you know, um, okay, uh, but it’s not been edited to be an “article”.
Jon Johnston: Welcome to Jon’s Post-Life Crisis. I am your host, Jon Johnston founder and manager of CornNation.com, your Nebraska Cornhuskers site of much concern today. We are joined by Andy Staples, who is one of the best college football pundits in the nation, writes for The Athletic, and has his own show on Sirius XM.
Jon Johnston: We’re going to start out with - what is going on? All we wanted to do is play football and now everybody’s mad at Nebraska. What’s the deal?
Andy Staples: Sounds like everybody in Nebraska is mad at the Big Ten. So it sounds like everybody is just mad. I think that the mad at Nebraska part comes from them sort of breaking with the league on a decision. And because all these decisions, when conferences make them say they want to act like they’re unanimous and we know they’re not actually unanimous, but usually there isn’t as much vocal opposition. And so, when Scott Frost came out on Monday and said what he said. First of all, that’s not just Scott Frost’s sentiment. That’s coming from above and that’s approved at the at the chancellor level or maybe system president level before he even lets that come out of his mouth. And then you get the response after the Big Ten decided to postpone football, Nebraska, they said they would explore other options. I think everybody knew that they’re not going to actually do anything to disrupt their membership in the Big Ten. But the Big Ten’s not used to that sort of response. Usually it’s very stoic and measured and and they don’t get that much pushback from their schools, at least not publicly.
Andy Staples: But the difference is there’s a new commissioner in the Big Ten. Kevin Warren’s only been on the job for eight months or seven months now. And and Jim Delany is retired. So things are a little different, communications different. I don’t blame Nebraska. I don’t blame Ohio State. I know Iowa had some issues with the way things were done. I don’t blame them saying it because there’s some questions that the Big Ten probably should have answered before they decided to postpone. I’m not sure they haven’t given a satisfactory answer yet. I mean, one of them is the spring season thing, which is, clearly they hadn’t put much thought into it. Ryan Day came out with his idea for a spring season on Wednesday. Jeff Brohm came out with his own on Thursday. But those two coaches are the first two to say anything. But shouldn’t you have a plan in place or at least a few different plans to pick from before you decide to punt on the fall on August 11th, when you still had three weeks or so to really decide?
Jon Johnston: Ryan Day basically in Ohio State basically came out and said the same exact thing in so many words that Scott Frost did, and he got a completely different reaction.
Andy Staples: Because Gene Smith didn’t say the same thing. You know that the statement from Nebraska was signed by the system. President, Chancellor. The AD and the head football coach. Ryan Day got mad. Gene Smith on Tuesday when all that happened. You had the resigned acceptance from him. Hey, whatever happens, we’re in the Big Ten, we’re just going to do it. And so he wasn’t talking about exploring options. The exploring options part didn’t come back again until Ryan Day said it the next morning. And he said, oh, I talked to Gene Smith about it this morning. And Gene Smith very quickly puts out a statement. No, no, no, no, we’re not doing anything else. We’re in the Big Ten. So I think a lot of that is the difference between being in a conference for one hundred years and being in a conference for nine years.
Jon Johnston: Do you really think it comes down to that Nebraska’s still getting accustomed to the Big Ten after ten years?
Andy Staples: Well, I think they’re the new guys. And also they came from a league well, two different leagues where they were they were a Bigfoot type team. Now, it wasn’t completely like that in the Big 12. It was more like Nebraska versus Texas half the time. But the Big Eight in Nebraska and Oklahoma had a lot of sway over everything. And this is a case where Nebraska has juice, but not when Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, those guys were on the other side because those guys have plenty of power in college sports, too. So they can’t one is not going to be able to boss around the others in the Big Ten. And I think the Big Ten is just used to a different level, a different kind of discourse. They’re not used to airing dirty laundry in public. And I think I think that was one of the things that. Probably set the old line Big Ten folks off was, hey, you’re supposed to do this behind the scenes. All these arguments supposed to take place in front of no one, and this was taking place very publicly, and it was interesting because I was surprised at the number of Nebraska fans that said, hey, let’s get out of here.
Andy Staples: Let’s go back to the Big 12 that you don’t want to do that. You got out of the Big 12 for a reason like that. Divorce happened for a reason. So, you don’t want to walk that back down the aisle there. And look, you’re not going to find a better financial deal than the Big Ten. You’re not going to find a better stability deal than the Big Ten. Obviously, Nebraska’s administration knows that. I just think a lot of this was a case of frustration blowing off steam, letting your fan base know that you are frustrated and you feel the same way they do, I think. And that’s what if I am the chancellor and I’m talking to Kevin Warren, the commissioner, the Big Ten. I say, look, a lot of that was was to show our constituents that we are just as hurt as they are. This is going on and that this matters to us as much as it matters to you. And so we came off as harsh. We’re sorry, but we wanted to send a message to the people who care about us.
Jon Johnston: I like the Big Ten, I like being in the Big Ten. It is a tougher conference than what I grew up with during my entire life in the Big Eight, Big 12. But I think we miss winning is what we really miss. So it’s not let’s go back to the Big 12.
Andy Staples: Yeah. Say things wouldn’t be any different in the big 12 from that standpoint. I mean, if it’s the same fire Bo Pelini, hire Mike Riley, the decisions had been made, it’s not like anything would be any different in a different league.
Jon Johnston: We’d still suck.
Andy Staples: Suck is a strong word. I don’t feel that way. It’s not quite that bad. I think they can turn it around. I don’t think it’s a case of that. You deal with Nebraska fans on a daily basis, but I actually find that Nebraska fans are more realistic about Nebraska than most people think. I think people nationally think that Nebraska fans are just, oh, they want to get back to the 90s and they think it’s going to be like that again. The Nebraska fans I interact with, they seem pretty resigned to the world of college football has changed. It’s probably not going to happen where the early to mid 90s dominance happens again, but there’s no reason Nebraska can’t have the same kind of success profile as, say, Wisconsin. I think that’s a good model. There is a team that is in the hunt for the division title every single year that one of these years is going to win the division title and then win the conference and then be in the playoffs. I think that’s the model that Nebraska could follow and could replicate. I don’t think that’s out of the question. I don’t think that’s unrealistic. And I think that would make people happy. I mean, it wouldn’t be like the glory days, but that’s just not going to happen.
Jon Johnston: Well, let’s go there, Scott Frost hasn’t had the success that we expected or that everybody was pretty hypey, right?
Andy Staples: Very.
Jon Johnston: What do you think? What is wrong or what did we do wrong in his first two seasons? What have we not fixed?
Andy Staples: I just think they got to get the roster better. I remember when they were courting Scott Frost, I was covering the UCF-USF game on Black Friday down in Orlando. And I forget who was it? The one of the the Omaha World Herald or Lincoln Journal star writers. I may have Lee Barfknecht was there and was watching the UCF’s game and saying, oh my God, I had no idea how much better athletes they had than Nebraska. And they do. They did. And that’s UCF. And that’s a team in the American.
And the following year I embedded with Troy the week that they played Nebraska. And it was interesting because the Troy coaches had to go back and forth between Nebraska film and UCF film because they said they needed Nebraska film to look at personnel. But the UCF film to look at the scheme and you’d see one play. And what they do is they try to find similar plays that were run against both defenses, for example. And so you’d see the play that’s run against Nebraska and you see Nebraska players running around and then you see the play that’s run against UCF and you see the players going around. It’s like, oh, my goodness, the speed differential here is immense. And that’s an American team. That’s not an SEC team. That’s not an ACC team, that’s a team in the American. So there was a lot of roster overhaul that Scott Frost needed to do. And that’s not something that happens overnight.
Jon Johnston: All right, let’s go back to the pandemic, this bloody damn pandemic for a bit. Do you think anybody will be playing fall football?
Andy Staples: I don’t know. I would have said zero percent chance when I woke up Tuesday morning.
Andy Staples: This was the day that the PAC 12 and the Big Ten ultimately canceled. We knew that was the direction they were probably going. I got it that morning. I figured they’d cancel and we’d see a domino effect where eventually the ACC and then the Big 12 and ultimately the SEC would also cancel. And then the group of five leagues that are kind of waiting around on those decisions would then cancel. But that didn’t happen. I expected the SEC to respond the way they did. I was more surprised at the way the ACC and the Big 12 responded. But the longer it goes, the more I think there’s a chance. But right now, I still I still think there’s a lot of logistical hurdles that they would need to jump through to get to a season. And a lot of that is what happens when the regular students come back to campus. What do the test results look like for them? Not not for the players necessarily, but for the regular student bodies? And then can you keep outbreaks from happening on teams? That’s a part that hasn’t been answered yet. That probably can’t be answered for a few weeks. But that’s also the reason, for example, if you listen to the SEC commissioner, Greg Sankey, he says, well, that’s why we move the start to the season to September 26th, so we could watch that and see what happens. He’s never said they’re definitely going to play. He’s always couched it in if conditions are OK, then they’ll play. But I think we just have to watch and see what happens.
Andy Staples: I have a little more optimism that somebody might play today than I did on Tuesday, but that could all disappear with with one crazy outbreak somewhere.
Jon Johnston: The chances that we’re going to play football in winter?
Andy Staples: I think if everybody cancels, I think there’s a good chance that they figure out a way to try to play in the spring. Now, the one thing that nobody’s answered in a satisfactory fashion is do they do they know it’s going to be better in January than it is now? And we don’t know. That’s an unanswerable question, but I don’t mind them trying. I don’t have a problem with them trying at all. But I think it’s a weird dynamic where I think if they all cancel, they will all try very hard to come up with a plausible way to play in the spring because there’s a lot of money on the line. There’s a lot of players who just want to play. If they all cancel, there will be a very concerted effort toward figuring that out, if they don’t all cancel, if the six leagues that right now are still trying to play in the fall, if they wind up playing a full season in the fall. I think it makes it harder on the other four to try to play in the spring. I think that that then becomes a very weird situation where people will be like, well, I guess I mean, they already just played this season. Why do we need to play a season now? And I realize in the Big Ten and the Pac-12, that’s that’s not going to be a satisfactory statement.
Andy Staples: It’s going to be no, we didn’t play our season. We didn’t get our season in. But just for the casual fan, it’s going to be a little bit different. And then now they are going to have the issues of the players who are eligible for the draft. How many of them opt out? You’ve already seen players that are potentially very high draft picks opting out of the fall season. So I don’t I don’t know how many would be willing to play in the spring. Ryan Day wants to play like January 1st because he wants to have a chance to have Justin Fields play quarterback and and Shaun Wade play cornerback. But that that may not happen. Does that mean they may not agree on that? Jeff Brohm would like them to start a little bit later. And, you know, he’s already lost Rondale Moore. So for him, it didn’t matter if they played in the fall or the spring, he wasn’t going to have his best player. So this is going to be the kind of the dynamic going forward is how many other people cancel. My thing is, if one or two more cancel, they’re all going to cancel. So if they’re all in the same boat, I think there’s a good chance of spring season. If they’re not, it’s going to be a little tricky.
Jon Johnston: If they can’t play this fall and for some reason can’t play again in the spring, I mean, we’re going to see like extinction of athletic departments across the nation, don’t you think?
Andy Staples: At the lower levels? Yeah, it’s going to it’s going to it’s not going to be pretty. Lots of sports will get cut even at the high levels of the power five levels. You’re going to see a lot of employees furloughed and laid off and departments. We’ve got it. I mean, you’re talking about a loss of, for Nebraska. They talk about eighty to one hundred twenty million dollars in revenue. They’re not kidding about that. That’s that’s what Nebraska football brings in. Now, a lot of these schools have reserves and they’re going to tap their reserves and try to try to make it as soft as possible for everybody. But the fact of the matter is, nobody has a reserve big enough to make this not hurt. It’s going to hurt no matter what happens.
Jon Johnston: I interviewed an economist from Creighton University, I don’t know, two episodes ago.$300M dollar impact to the area of Lincoln, Nebraska. And there are college towns all over America. This is a kind of a bloodbath even in the fall, isn’t it?
Andy Staples: I live in Gainesville, Florida. There will not be a hotel in the city that turns a profit this year. There probably won’t be a restaurant in the city that turns a profit this year because they live for those seven home games. And even if Florida plays, don’t know how many fans are going to be in the stands. I doubt it would be very many, maybe one fifth capacity if that. So all the things that those communities rely on in terms of economic drivers are getting taken away for this year. And that’s probably if they play or not. Because are you going to be able to have full stadium?
Andy Staples: If you’re not, then a lot of the things that you would make the money on in town still are going to make that money.
Jon Johnston: I didn’t even bring up media, you guys, I stood next to a lot of photographers on sidelines and I keep wondering what’s going to happen to those guys. They’re they were already under stress anyway.
Andy Staples: But a lot of the people who get paid by assignment are in deep trouble right now. They’re in the same boat as a lot of the restaurant industry and a lot of the other industries that have been really harmed by the pandemic. And there’s a lot of people struggling right now. I’ve been very fortunate to to have the job at The Athletic where they’ve said, listen, we understand that things are not good right now, but we expect college football to be back and expect to need to have to write about it. That is one of those things that everybody in America is dealing with that right now, and I just it’s going to stink for the people in those athletic departments when if they can’t play because we talk about the coaching salaries, But the thing is, those people will still keep their jobs. They’ll they’ll have their pay cut, but they’ll still keep their jobs. They’ll still be making a decent amount of money. There’s a lot of five figure people in those athletic departments, the ones that actually keep the the lights going and the place running who are just trying to put food on the table and they’re not going to have jobs or they’re going to be furloughed for a long time and have to try to figure out what to do between now and then. And it’s it’s a pretty nasty situation.
Jon Johnston: I wanted to ask you, is Scott Frost the right coach for this program? You probably answered that about 400000 times, right?
Andy Staples: I think he is. He understands the program really well, you look at he understands the value of the walk on program. He’s obviously been a player in the program, so he knows what it looked like and how it was operating when it worked at its best. But I think he also understands the challenges of running it. Now, he’s been in a place where as an assistant, Oregon, where, there’s not a ton of talent near Eugene, Oregon, they figured out how to get people there. They figured out how to how to create a brand that people wanted to come play for. So it’s not out of the question that Nebraska can be successful under Scott Frost. I think just because it hasn’t happened as quickly as people want doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t happen. I think a lot of it is people don’t understand the situation he walked into at UCF because you look at it and you say, oh, he took over a team that was 0-12. They go 6-7, and then the next year they’re undefeated. Well, he’s obviously a miracle worker. So what happened that was different here? Well, no, he’s not a miracle worker. The team he took over at UCF was loaded. They went 0-12 because they mutinied against a coach they didn’t like. George O’Leary was not the not always the cuddliest guy.
Andy Staples: And so in his last year, they basically checked on him. And so that was the reason they went 0fer. It wasn’t because they stunk or they had a bad roster. They had Shaquin Griffin sitting there is like a third team safety. He wasn’t even sniffing the field. He was the best linebacker in the country his senior year. That’s the thing that people understand. Scott Frost took over a loaded roster at USF and then got it better very quickly. Nebraska was a harder job, not just because of the roster he took over, but also because the league’s harder, I would say the division got harder almost simultaneously as him coming in. That’s, you know, look, Illinois got better last year. Purdue was getting better. As soon as they hired Jeff Brohm, they started getting better. Minnesota has clearly gotten a lot better under P.J. Fleck. Wisconsin is Wisconsin. Northwestern has always overachieved under Pat Fitzgerald. We joked about the Big Ten West, but the Big Ten West is not what it was three, four years ago. The Big Ten West is a much tougher division now than it was. And I think the fact that Frost came in with all these high expectations at the same time that everything kind of all the boats were rising in the division, made it even tougher to get better fast.
Andy Staples: That’s why last year, when they’re picking them to win the division before the season starts, why? What information have you gotten that suggests these guys are going to be that different this year than they were last year, and especially given the fact that Wisconsin had a down year and they don’t do down years very often. So you figured they’d be back and then it was a down year for Northwestern, which they don’t have down years very often. If they can play. Let’s say they play in the spring, Northwestern will be very much improved over last season. Wisconsin will still be very good. Minnesota is going to be good as long as P.J. Fleck there. I know people don’t like his style and they think he’s is kind of a car salesman. But guess what? He gets results everywhere he’s been and he does it through recruiting. There’s nothing fancy,flashy. He’s not Jedi mind tricking these guys, he is evaluating very well, signing really good football players and developing them. And he did it in western Michigan. He’s doing it at Minnesota. So Scott Frost’s job is a lot harder than people thought it was when he got hired. I think I think people are starting to appreciate that now.
Jon Johnston: I said one more question didn’t I.
Andy Staples: You can do one more.
Jon Johnston: The rift between Big Ten in Nebraska and let’s say some national pundits or people writing people on Twitter, blah, blah, is that is this just an attention span thing? Is it going to go away? Do you see it causing any long term problems?
Andy Staples: Not as long as that as it’s not an issue every time the Big Ten makes a decision that if Nebraska is on the short end of the decision every time and gets mad about it every single time, then it’s going to be just like they were back in the big 12. I mean, as someone at Nebraska told me a long time ago about Nebraska, the Big 12, there were a lot of 11-1 votes.
You don’t want to be on the business end of a bunch of 13-1 votes. This is different because Ohio State was clearly on their side. Iowa was clearly on their side in this situation. And it was a very heated situation. It was probably the most consequential vote that Nebraska is going to have as a Big Ten member. I mean, it may be it may be the most consequential vote they have as a Big Ten member if they’re in the league 100 years. So it’s OK to have a very emotional response to this stuff. And as long as in the future, when there are disagreements, they may handle it the way the Big Ten expects it handled behind closed doors and respectfully, then, I don’t think there’s going to be a problem. And I don’t think Nebraska wants to make that a problem.
Andy Staples: People don’t get how nice prosperity and security are. And the Big Ten is prosperity and security as much as you can have it in college sports. And we’ve seen that sometimes it doesn’t matter during the pandemic, but as close as you can get to to complete security. You have it in the Big Ten, so I think they’re going to be OK.
Jon Johnston: I called Kevin Warren bad names on Twitter. I should probably delete those.
Andy Staples: I can’t think about, OK, I don’t think Kevin Warren has answered questions very well during this stretch. I think like when Dave Revsine asked him, was the vote unanimous? The dodging was just incredible when you could just said, I think it’s pretty obvious it wasn’t unanimous. This is a very passionate thing. It is what it is.
Andy Staples: But imagine you just got this job six months ago. And then the world gets thrown into something it’s never the nobody’s ever seen before. None of us were alive in 1918 Spanish flu. So now you have to deal with this completely unprecedented thing. And you got to figure out what to do when there’s no guidebook, no precedent, no nothing. I say we give Kevin Warren a little bit of a break. To criticize him, fine for the way he’s answered questions or this, but let’s not completely throw out the Kevin Warren commissioner era after seven months because of this. Remember, there were at least 11 Big Ten schools that that agreed in this situation, so it wasn’t like Kevin Warren was trying to buck a trend or trying to harm one school or another, he’s just trying to lead the conference. And there are some people with very strong ideas going both directions that he’s trying to manage. I don’t say this to completely absolve him because I do think this could have been handled better. The Big Ten decided to go conference only on July 9th. It could have been handled differently, where maybe it doesn’t touch off in every league for itself kind of situation, which it did. I think it would have helped had they been a little more collegial with the other power five leagues, because those five moving together would have been better than what’s going on now.
Andy Staples: But Again, nobody knows how to handle this, so I’m not going to completely trash the guy who is doing the best he can at the job he just got of.
Jon Johnston: Basically mercy and grace should rule the day when it comes to our decision makers and I should delete my tweets or maybe be a little nicer on Twitter.
Andy Staples: Just just just try to put yourself in their shoes for a minute and listen. I have been very critical of people in charge of college sports for a long time, about a number of different things but the one thing I thought about a lot through this thing is I am glad I’m not them right now because nobody knows what the right decisions are and only time is going to prove who is right and who is wrong. And a lot of it is just guessing, so it’s not a great place to be. It’s a good paycheck to get, but it’s a pretty tough. So the decisions you got to make.
Jon Johnston: All right, we’ll end there. Thank you, Andy Staples, for joining me and taking the time. This has been Jon’s Post-Life crisis. Thanks for listening. Remember mercy and grace and go Big Red!