Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook expects this season to be an "adventure" as the NCAA, Big Ten and teams across the country try to navigate issues created by the coronavirus pandemic.
But amid all the uncertainty, Cook can find some sense of comfort knowing his entire team is healthy and back in Lincoln. The Huskers are "in a normal summer routine," said Cook, who hasn't returned to Lincoln yet. That includes taking classes and working out four days a week with the team's strength coach.
Before being cleared to work out each day, players must have their temperature checked and answer a questionnaire about any symptoms they may have. Cook said only one player has been "flagged" for showing symptoms, but that was because of allergies, not COVID-19.
"I'm not allowed to be there, but I think the enthusiasm is great," Cook said this week on a podcast he does monthly with his daughter, Lauren. "They're excited to be together. I think that's the biggest thing."
And though his players have a sense of normalcy, this summer has been anything but normal for Cook.
He's in regular communication with Nebraska administrators and officials from the Big Ten and NCAA. He's awaiting word from the NCAA about when the season will begin and how it can be conducted.
The first noticeable changes will come with the nonconference schedule. Nebraska typically hosts tournaments in the early weeks of the season, but Cook said multiple teams have dropped out because of travel and budget restrictions.
And with Nebraska facing its own budget cuts, Cook said he's been asked to reduce travel as much as possible. That will mean facing more nearby teams in the nonconference schedule.
"Maybe we play Creighton five times in nonconference," Cook said. "I mean, it may come down to that."
The Big Ten schedule will also look different. Cook said coaches have received that schedule, but it hasn't been released publicly yet. Cook said the number of matches played on Wednesday nights was cut in half in favor of having more played on the weekend.
And for Nebraska, it includes more games against teams in the western half of the conference as to allow for traveling by bus instead of planes. But Nebraska will still have to take chartered flights for most of its away matches because of its distance from other conference teams.
“It doesn't create an even schedule," Cook said. "But it's a one-year deal. And so we do what we got to do. The great ones adjust."
Some of Nebraska's home matches may even be played in a different venue this season. Cook said he's had discussions about playing in Pinnacle Bank Arena as a way to allow more fans to attend, if health regulations allow.
He said once social distancing measures are put in place, the Devaney Center can safely hold about 2,500 fans compared to 8,000 in PBA.
"We just want to have fans, but the key is how do we keep it safe?" Cook said. "And if we can do that and put more butts in the seats, then we got to look at it.”
The NCAA also hopes it can hold the national championship tournament on schedule, though Cook said it may be conducted differently.
Typically, the 64-team field is divided into 16 host sites for the first and second rounds, with four teams at each location. Cook said one change being discussed is reducing the number of host sites to eight, with eight teams at each site, and those teams would probably be placed based on proximity.
Those sites would be predetermined before the season starts, and Nebraska plans to place a bid to host. Omaha is supposed to host the Final Four in December.
"We're open to anything because we just want to be able to play," Cook said. "That's the key is we got to do whatever we can to have a season."
The all-decade Nebraska volleyball team