UPDATE 3:25 pm (central): The athletic department issued a statement that Nebraska-Oklahoma 2021 is still on.
An otherwise quiet Friday morning was rocked by this tweet by Stadium’s Brett McMurphy.
Nebraska is trying to get out of playing Oklahoma on Sept. 18, sources told @Stadium. The Cornhuskers have contacted other schools to play in Lincoln on that date, sources said. The game was scheduled to mark 50th anniversary of 1971 "Game of the Century" b/w No. 1 NU & No. 2 OU— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) March 12, 2021
In a day and age where misinformation runs amok, this story certainly sounds absurd, until as time goes by, local media not only can’t get a “that’s not true” response, but actually gets some confirmation that it might actually be true.
Now, I can come up with three reasons why this could actually happen; there may be more that I’m not thinking of:
Money: Nebraska, like every other sports program in the world, is facing unprecedented financial pressures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A complete loss of ticket revenue combined with some extra expenses for testing and mitigation has strained the athletic department’s budgets. So replacing a road game with a home game likely nets NU an extra $3 million, after paying a new opponent their guarantee and paying Oklahoma to buy out the 2021 game.
NCAA Issues: Nebraska and Illinois received an NCAA exemption to play on Week Zero in Dublin. When COVID-19 pushed the game back to Champaign, the NCAA may have asked Nebraska and Illinois to move the game off of week zero, especially if Nebraska is going to try to play in Ireland in a future season. Since Nebraska and Illinois did not have a common bye-week, perhaps there were discussions to adjust the rest of the schedule to allow this game to occur during the traditional season.
Fear: Let’s go ahead and acknowledge the elephant in the room: Nebraska has four straight (and five out of the last six) losing seasons. With Ohio State and Michigan on the 2021 schedule, Nebraska is rightfully concerned about becoming bowl eligible with a young program.
So I get that. However, the reasons to not even consider this move are much more compelling.
Tradition: The biggest tradition that survived Steve Pederson and Shawn Eichorst’s tenures was the sellout streak. (Yes, it’s still intact since there were no tickets for sale last season.) This would be the 60th straight season where you won’t be able to walk up to the ticket window at Memorial Stadium and purchase a ticket. (Heck, I don’t think they are even set up to accommodate walk-up sales anymore.) But expecting Nebraska fans to be so overjoyed to be able to return inside Memorial Stadium to pay $60 or more to watch an extra game against Old Dominion? I don’t know if the sellout streak will survive the pandemic in 2021, but adding a game like this is thumbing your nose at the fans that have supported this program through thick and to this point, the very thin.
MAC schools & Old Dominion are among those Nebraska contacted to play in Lincoln on Sept. 18, industry sources told @Stadium. Nebraska is looking to get out of playing at Oklahoma Sept. 18, sources said. This year marks 50th anniversary of the 1971 NU-OU Game of the Century— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) March 12, 2021
Oh yeah...there’s also that reason the game was scheduled in the first place. In 1971, the biggest regular season game ever for these two schools was played on Thanksgiving Day. Conference schedules don’t allow this game to be played in November, but backing out on recognizing one of the greatest moments in school history is an affront to tradition.
Pride: The rest of college football has had their fun at Nebraska’s expense in recent years. Especially last year, when Nebraska pushed to play football when seemingly nobody else did. So now running scared of the Oklahoma Sooners just seems to be waiving the white flag, admitting that Nebraska isn’t what it used to be. I get that; after all, the Sooners didn’t want to play Nebraska either in the mid 1990’s when they fell on hard times. Nebraska has been on the bad side of a bunch of football games as of late, but that embarrassment pales to what will happen if Nebraska does back out of this historic matchup.
Maybe there’s another reason to not play this game that hasn’t become clear, but Nebraska’s pride and tradition demands that the September 18th game be reconfirmed and celebrated, and this idea of not playing this game be disavowed. If anything, that’s the last thing we have, because not even Steve Pederson or Shawn Eichorst would be dumb enough to back out on this game.