NU officials: Huskers and Zips could have played Sunday, Akron ‘opted out’
A fast-developing line of thunderstorms caught decision-makers at Memorial Stadium off guard Saturday night and slammed shut what they thought to be a three-hour window to play Nebraska football’s season-opener against Akron.
NU deputy athletic director Bob Burton said that window was among the reasons the school did not push for the game, which became the first in the school’s history to be canceled by weather, to start earlier Saturday.
“During the week and even on Saturday, we thought we had a three-hour window to get the game in,” said Burton, who is athletic director Bill Moos’ chief of staff and his liaison to the football department. “There was a bigger cell behind it, and we didn’t know that that thing was going to stall out the way it did.”
Weather models also showed a window between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Sunday. Husker officials wanted to explore moving the game to there, but, according to NU, Akron athletic director Larry Williams told Moos that his school could not make that work.
“During the delay, there were numerous scenarios discussed for contingency plans for playing the game, including a scenario to play the game on Sunday,” Moos said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Akron faced some logistical challenges and the decision was made to cancel the game.”
Akron officials did not return the Journal Star’s requests for comment from Williams.
“We were discussing the challenges, but we felt that we could definitely have had a game (Sunday),” Burton said. “We knew the option of Akron during (NU’s open date Oct. 27) did not work because Akron plays Central Michigan,” Burton said. “We knew that, so as we were working last night, we were discussing playing the game Sunday morning. And Akron did not want to do that.”
Burton said the group was working through what accommodations the Zips would have needed on short notice, a sizable challenge in its own right considering Akron did not have hotel reservations for Saturday night.
“The two biggest things probably are room and board,” Burton said, acknowledging that he was not in the room to hear the conversations between Moos and Williams. “So we were working on that, but Bill came back from the meeting with (Williams) and said, ’We’re not playing the game tomorrow.”
Akron’s charter flight took off from the Lincoln airport just before 1 a.m. and landed in Ohio around 3:45 a.m. EST.
Moos’ statement encourages fans to hold onto their ticket from Saturday in case the school finds room for a 12th game somewhere between now and the end of the season. Burton confirmed that, at this time, NU is not reimbursing ticket-holders.
“Regarding any potential additions or adjustments to the 2018 football schedule, we will explore and discuss those options in the coming weeks,” Moos said. “In the meantime, fans are encouraged to hold onto their tickets from last night’s game in the event a game were to be added later in the season.”
Burton also said there’s been no final decision on whether Akron will be paid any or all of the $1.17 million called for in the game contract between the schools.
“I think that’s to be determined,” Burton said. ... “Again, I wasn’t in the discussion. All I know is that when they went down to play the game on Sunday, (Akron) opted out of playing the game.”
As Saturday evening progressed, thunderstorms in the area just would not relent. NU associate athletic director for events Butch Hug said the 30-minute clock that restarted after each lightning strike within an 8-mile radius never even progressed 10 minutes without starting over and at one point there were more than 1,500 strikes within a 15-mile radius.
Hug said he couldn’t remember ever seeing a higher density of strikes than that.
Burton’s assertion that the Huskers thought they could pull off a Sunday game on short notice is notable because Hug said somewhere between 3,300 and 3,500 people are working in Memorial Stadium on any given home game day before the gates open.
As for potentially starting the game earlier Saturday, Hug reinforced Burton’s assertion that officials were caught off guard at how fast conditions deteriorated around kickoff. The potential for storms existed all week, but not with the certainty that built through Saturday afternoon.
“Obviously there was some knowledge that there was some potential for some delays, but I don’t know that anybody really ever forecasted, ‘Hey, it’s going to come this quick,’” Hug said. “Then it becomes television and the conference who are ultimately going to make that decision.”
Hug, of course, was the one tasked with making the decision to halt the game. He ran out onto the field at 7:15 p.m., just after kickoff, after seeing a lightning strike within the 8-mile radius. The Husker offense had just taken the field but had not yet run a play, and the first-quarter game clock had not moved off of 15:00.
That left the department veteran in an unenviable position as the guy that had to decide to stop Scott Frost’s first game at Nebraska before the heralded coach called even a single play.
But the radar screen and Mother Nature left Hug no choice and, given the extensive nature of the storms, there’s no way an evening game could have been completed by dawn.
“You get booed by 85,000 people and everybody watching on television,” Hug said. “I really didn’t lose any sleep over the decision, but I didn’t sleep much either.”