So this is interesting: Since 2009, the Nebraska Cornhuskers have played seven games in November on less than a week of rest.
They’ve won five of them.
Which means when athletic director Shawn Eichorst tells Huskers.com on Tuesday that moving away from ending the regular season on a Black Friday “makes sense from a student-athlete health, safety and welfare perspective,” it doesn’t exactly hold up in the wash, does it?
It does, however, provide the perfect alibi/cover for a coach who doesn’t exactly love Black Friday games — and doesn’t want to get on the wrong side of a fan base that’s grown accustomed to them for more than a generation.
“I do not like to get out of the routine of what we do week to week to get ready for a game,” Nebraska coach Mike Riley told Huskers.com after the Big Ten released its 2020 and 2021 league slates to the world, schedules in which the Heroes Games on a Friday were replaced by Minnesota on a Saturday.
“So changing that is no fun for me, because you always have a mystery of where your team is physically in what you need to do, and what you need to do in the actual preparation part of it.”
Word of advice: If you’re running around taking a meat cleaver to sacred traditions, you better darn well be in the process of creating some of your own.
Black Friday and the Huskers isn’t just sacred. It’s anticipated. Sales at 5 a.m., leftovers in the fridge, and the Big Red on the tube. Nebraska and the day after Thanksgiving became intertwined in 1990, a spot on the schedule annually reserved for the Cornhuskers’ biggest rival. It started with Oklahoma, then moved to Colorado with the advent of the Big 12 in 1996, then Iowa when the Big Red started Big Ten play in 2011.
Super bummed about Nebraska losing its spot on Black Friday for CFB. Bad enough we stink and now we can’t even keep our traditions. Bye Iowa
— Bob Holtzman (@Calisker) September 12, 2017
I don’t hate playing Wisconsin or Minnesota the last game of the year vs Nebraska. It’s more losing Black Friday that makes me mad.
— Hugo Stiglitz (@jfahr) September 12, 2017
When Star Wars Episode 9 is pushed to December of 2019 and Nebraska not playing Iowa in 2020 and 2021 on Black Friday pic.twitter.com/blNFbuDy8F
— Hunt (@HuntDvorak2) September 12, 2017
What was once a fixed point in the calendar is now, in NFL terms, a flex game. The Huskers have reportedly told the league office they have an interest in finishing the regular season with some rotation of Iowa, Wisconsin or Minnesota — sweet, does this mean the $5 Bits Of Broken Chair Trophy is coming back? — rather than the same closer every year.
“It just changes year to year and cycle to cycle,” Big Ten associate commissioner Mark Rudner told Land of 10’s Scott Dochterman. “There really wasn’t [any] deep thought given. It was just an effort to mix it up.
“Our ADs had an agreement that if Iowa and Nebraska were schedule on the last week of the season, it would go to Friday. But … we didn’t schedule it on the last weekend, not because anybody said they didn’t want to do it, but we wanted to switch it around.”
Even if it’s in ink, the schedules released Tuesday aren’t permanent yet. The Huskers and Hawkeyes were originally slated to start their rivalry series on a Saturday, too, back when Nebraska’s first Big Ten dance cards for 2011 and 2012 were first announced in the fall of 2010.
“If anybody’s playing on that last week and would like to move their game from Saturday to Friday, we’d take it to the athletic directors and make a recommendation,” Rudner continued. “I think it’s fertile territory.”
In other words, if Iowa and Wisconsin both agree to move their rivalry game — now the final league contest for both programs in 2020 and 2021 — up a day, the bean-counters at FS1 won’t stand in their way.
And, voila, an old Cornhuskers tradition becomes a new Hawkeyes tradition. Just like that.
Riley’s 0-2 on Black Friday. Last November’s 30-point drubbing at Iowa forced the program to take a long, hard look in the mirror.
If the coach wanted it, if Eichorst wanted it, they could fight for it. Tooth and nail.
Make of it what you will.
Playing on Friday gives you a extra day to prepare for the B1G championship game. Guess that’s not a priority for Riley or Eichorst either.
— Craig Alley (@Alleywheelman) September 12, 2017
Nor is the best look that Eichorst and Riley lumped their objections to Black Friday games with the populist reservations against stepping on prep football Friday nights.
Right principle. Wrong application.
For one, all six Nebraska School Activities Association state football championships in 2017 wrap up the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. For another, the same fans who detest the Big Ten’s foray into Fridays freely admit that Thanksgiving weekend is fair game, given work schedules and viewing habits. Pandora ripped the lid off that box a long time ago.
And if you don’t believe us, we turn back to Huskers.com, and a take from former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini in a piece from March 2011, after Iowa and Nebraska agreed to play their first Big Ten rivalry games the day after Thanksgiving:
“Obviously, I have the philosophy that you show up and play when and where the schedule dictates,” Pelini told the site. “That being said, playing the day after Thanksgiving has been good for our program in terms of national exposure, and we look forward to that continuing as we move into the Big Ten Conference.”
Nothing about “routine.”
Not a peep about “mystery.”
Show up and play.
Clearly, something’s changed in six years. And we can think of at least two somethings in particular.