(Photo Credit: Bleacher Report)
This week, Nebraska reported that their football program has been the subject of an NCAA investigation pertaining to improper use of analysts and consultants as well as holding prohibited workouts off campus during the pandemic. All of this allegedly was known by the school’s head coach, Scott Frost. “We just wanted to acknowledge that there is an NCAA investigation that is currently engaged with our athletic department and our football program specifically," Nebraska Athletic Director Trev Alberts told reporters. "We want you to know that we have complied 100% with the NCAA and been very collaborative with our approach with them with all of their investigation” and "We will continue to do whatever the NCAA asks us to do.” Now, before diving in, I’m not implying that Scott Frost and his staff didn’t break any NCAA rules or mandates. However, this story just seems a little suspicious given the context of the current state of Nebraska football entering its fourth season in the Scott Frost era. Is this investigation purely about upholding NCAA standards or rules pertaining to COVID-19, or is it about something else?
In November of 2019, Nebraska surprisingly gave Scott Frost a contract extension through 2026 that would pay him $5 million annually. When the extension was announced, Nebraska was 8-13 under Frost through his first season and a half. This news raised eyebrows at the time because it’s extremely rare to see a coach get a contract extension with that kind of record. If Nebraska were to fire Frost without cause (meaning continued underperformance) before 2022, it would require them to pay a $20 million buyout. Why is this relevant to the reports of the NCAA investigation? It’s relevant because if the investigation can prove Frost was in the wrong with his use of analysts and orchestration of workouts during COVID, it could be a route for Nebraska to fire him with cause. This would release the liability of the Huskers to pay the $20 million buyout.
Therefore, it’s fair to wonder who leaked this information to the NCAA. With everything going on in the world of college athletics, it’s unlikely that the NCAA was actively seeking to go after Nebraska. With that being said, when something shows up on their desk like this, they’ll definitely look into it. According to Brett McMurphy of the Action Network, the school has “significant video footage” confirming the illegal use of analysts during practices. Combining this with the previously referenced statements by Trev Alberts, I get a little bit of suspicion for what Nebraska might be trying to do here. It appears like the school actively went out to acquire video evidence of the illegal use of analysts at practices. While some might read this and appreciate Nebraska’s compliance department, it’s worth mentioning that nearly every elite program in the nation does the same thing. Analysts fall under a category of an assistant coach that isn't considered part of the "countable" limit of 10 by the NCAA. They are technically prohibited from directly coaching players or going on off-campus recruiting trips. However, over the last decade, many programs have expanded the role of the analyst without any backlash from the NCAA. If Frost wanted to say “we’re doing the same thing everybody else is” in his defense, he wouldn’t be wrong. In regards to the alleged workouts held off campus during the pandemic, Frost affirmed that “Everything we did through COVID was in the best interest and health of our players in mind and everything we did was approved by athletic department administration and campus administration.”
If Nebraska competed for Big Ten titles and went to Rose Bowls over Frost’s first three seasons, would we still be hearing about these alleged violations? I don’t think so. This situation is strikingly similar to what occurred at Tennessee last season. After a 2-0 start, Tennessee extended head coach Jeremy Pruitt’s contract for an additional two years. Following the extension, Tennessee proceeded to lose seven of their last eight games. At the end of the season, Tennessee self-reported recruiting violations to the NCAA, and eventually fired Pruitt for cause, negating his $12 million buyout. In reading the tea leaves, it looks like Nebraska might be trying to do something along these lines here. The athletic director who hired Scott Frost, Bill Moos, stepped down earlier this Summer. Oftentimes, whenever a new athletic director comes in, the job security of the current head coach inevitably lessens. AD’s usually like to hire “their guy,” and it’s fair to think that Trev Alberts might be thinking of doing exactly that.
In the current environment in college athletics, the NCAA wasn’t actively seeking out Nebraska to find violations. Given Nebraska’s lack of success, there’s a chance that the university wants to make a change at the head coaching position and avoid paying the $20 million buyout. A former Husker great, many heralded Scott Frost as the “chosen son” destined to return Nebraska football to its glory days when he was hired. Now, it looks like they’re leaving perhaps about to leave him in the cold.
Frost has now obtained legal counsel, so this story isn’t going away any time soon. Nebraska begins their 2021 season against Illinois on August 28th.