LINCOLN, Neb. (CBS Sports) — Nebraska came close to adding a replacement game with Chattanooga for Saturday after the Cornhuskers' game with Wisconsin was canceled, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. But the Big Ten scuttled Nebraska's effort to deviate from the league's conference-only schedule, according to multiple reports.
The attempt by Nebraska to get a game with Chattanooga on the schedule comes after its contest with Wisconsin was declared a no contest as the Badgers deal with a COVID-19 outbreak. It's just the latest example of the Cornhuskers' willingness to buck the Big Ten establishment when it comes to football scheduling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nebraska coach Scott Frost suggested in August that Nebraska would be willing to look outside the Big Ten to compile a football schedule if the league voted to postpone or cancel its fall season. When the Big Ten did vote to postpone the fall season, university leadership was publicly critical of the decision. Ultimately, the league changed course and opted to begin its season last weekend in a nine-week, conference-only format.
But adding Chattanooga would have been a deviation from that agreed-upon structure.
Chattanooga is an FCS program expected to play a full Southern Conference schedule this spring. But Chattanooga coach Rusty Wright made it clear in August that his program would play anyone this fall. The Mocs lost 13-10 to Western Kentucky last week. The Times Free Press reported that Chattanooga would have received a payday "in the neighborhood" of $200,000 to $250,000 from Nebraska if the game had been played.
Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos and University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green shared the following join-statement regarding the exploration of an alternate opponent and the Big Ten's ruling:
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the safety and well-being of our Nebraska student-athletes has been our top priority, and we know Wisconsin is operating with the same guiding principle. We wish all of those impacted in the Wisconsin program a quick and full recovery from the virus.
With the cancellation of the game against Wisconsin, we did explore the possibility of securing a non-conference game for Saturday. The discussions we had were with teams that had already implemented stricter testing protocols than those mandated by the Big Ten Conference. Those details were non-negotiable if we were to bring a non-conference opponent to Lincoln.
At Nebraska, we will always make decisions based on what is best for our student-athletes, and to provide them with the best possible experience during their college careers. To this point, the young men in our program have worked hard to prepare for the football season and have made the necessary sacrifices in order to play in this unusual environment. With an already shortened season, we owed it to our student-athletes to explore any possible option to play a game this week.
We believe the flexibility to play non-conference games could have been beneficial not only for Nebraska, but other Big Ten teams who may be in a similar position as the season progresses. The ability for all Big Ten members to play a non-conference game if needed could provide another data point for possible College Football Playoff and bowl consideration.
Ultimately, the Big Ten Conference did not approve our request, and we respect their decision. We are excited to move forward with preparations for the rest of the season, beginning with next week’s game at Northwestern.”