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Nebraska football players sue Big Ten over fall season postponement; conference says 'lawsuit has no merit'

Nebraska football players sue Big Ten over fall season postponement; conference says 'lawsuit has no merit'

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Eight Nebraska football players filed a lawsuit against the Big Ten seeking a reversal of its decision to postpone the fall sports season and greater clarity as to how league leadership arrived at that conclusion.

The World-Herald obtained a copy of the 13-page complaint, which contends the league’s Aug. 11 action to postpone should be overturned because it didn’t follow established procedures in the decision-making process and was “unjustified” based on flawed and misapplied medical information. The suit is being filed in the District Court of Lancaster County.

Husker players represented are Garrett Snodgrass, Garrett Nelson, Ethan Piper, Noa Pola-Gates, Alante Brown, Brant Banks, Brig Banks and Jackson Hannah. Those whose families are “core” members of the Nebraska parents group — which first presented the possibility of legal action in an open letter last week — are Snodgrass, Hannah, Nelson, Piper and the Banks brothers.

The players’ attorney, Mike Flood, said the lawsuit “isn’t about money or damages, it’s about real-life relief.” Nebraska student-athletes followed every precaution and protocol as laid out by the University of Nebraska Medical Center with the expectation of playing football this fall. An “arbitrary and capricious” decision takes away that opportunity, he said.

“Our Clients want to know whether there was a vote and the details of any vote, and whether the Big Ten followed its own rules in reaching its decision,” Flood said. “Sadly, these student-athletes have no other recourse than filing a lawsuit against their conference.”

Specifically, the document raises three counts against the Big Ten:

» Wrongful interference with business expectations. For football student-athletes, the season represents a chance to work toward a career as a professional player as well as develop personal brands for eventual monetary gain under name/image/likeness legislation. Canceling the fall campaign based on what is now outdated or inaccurate medical information — while not taking into account why players are actually safer in a team environment that tests them regularly — cannot be justified.

» Breach of contract. The league — through reputation, public statements and its own documents — has established it exists in part to benefit its student-athletes. It potentially violated that contract by not holding an actual vote within its Council of Presidents and Chancellors.

» Declaratory judgment. The Big Ten not actually voting on the decision, or at least being unwilling and/or unable to produce records of such a vote, violates its governing documents. The decision should be invalid and unenforceable.

The lawsuit states represented players won’t seek or accept damages of $75,000 or greater in the action.

A couple hours after the complaint was filed, the Big Ten released a statement saying the players' lawsuit "has no merit."

"The Big Ten Conference Council of Presidents and Chancellors overwhelmingly voted to postpone the fall sports season based on medical concerns and in the best interest of the health and safety of our student athletes. This was an important decision for our 14 member institutions and the surrounding communities.

"We share the disappointment that some student-athletes and their families are feeling. However, this lawsuit has no merit and we will defend the decision to protect all student-athletes as we navigate through this global pandemic. We are actively considering options to get back to competition and look forward to doing so when it is safe to play."

League commissioner Kevin Warren, in an Aug. 19 open letter, wrote that the Council decision “was overwhelmingly in support of postponing fall sports and will not be revisited.” He later added, “the decision was thorough and deliberative, and based on sound feedback, guidance and advice from medical experts.”

The Big Ten and Nebraska officials have publicly turned their attention to a possible winter/spring football season in recent weeks. 

Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos and UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green have also made clear they are preparing for a season in January or later. “Football will definitely be after the first of the year,” Moos said last week.

Still, public pressure and grassroots efforts continue against the league. A petition by Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields has well over 300,000 signatures. A group of player parents representing 11 of 14 Big Ten schools — all but Wisconsin, Minnesota and Indiana — issued a collective statement Wednesday expressing a “total lack of confidence” in Warren’s ability to lead and communicate.

Nebraska parents, in an Aug. 20 letter written by Flood, laid down an ultimatum for the Big Ten to provide documents related to the decision-making process as well as scientific data considered by last Monday or they would file a lawsuit. The deadline passed with no communication from the league, the group said through its Twitter account.

The eight Nebraska players signed letters of engagement earlier this week. The football team returned to a 12-hours-per-week workout model this week after taking the last two weeks off following the postponement decision.​

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