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UF presidential finalist, football fan Ben Sasse once made crack at Gators

Sasse tried to save Big Ten football in 2020, sold sandwiches at Nebraska and made a dig about UF in 2018.
U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) is the lone finalist to become the University of Florida's next president. He's a big Cornhuskers fan.
U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) is the lone finalist to become the University of Florida's next president. He's a big Cornhuskers fan. [ NATI HARNIK | AP (2014) ]
Published Oct. 7|Updated Oct. 7

After Thursday’s announcement that U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) is the sole finalist to become the University of Florida’s next president, our Emily L. Mahoney examined some of the Nebraska Republican’s views.

She, however, did not address his stance on what is unquestionably the single most important topic he’ll face at UF: Gators football.

Related: Ben Sasse could be UF’s new president. Here are some of his views.

It is, believe it or not, something Sasse has addressed before. Sasse spoke at the 2018 National Summit on Education Reform and was interviewed by Kristen Soltis Anderson, an Orlando native and UF alumna.

“Your football loyalties are just completely misaligned,” Sasse joked.

“Go Gators,” she replied.

“The best team money can buy,” Sasse said.

The crowd laughed.

“That’s going to get me in trouble,” Sasse said. “Can we edit the tape?”

No, apparently. It’s on YouTube (here, around the 43-minute mark).

Sasse quickly said he regretted the comment, which was clearly in jest.

Sasse is a big Nebraska Cornhuskers fan. He has called football “the second most important religion” in his state and said he started reading the newspaper as a child to see the latest information on Huskers recruiting.

His biggest football-related policy moment came in August 2020 when he wrote a letter to the Big Ten’s presidents and chancellors asking them not to cancel the season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a moment for leadership,” Sasse wrote. “These young men need a season.”

The Big Ten canceled the season, anyway, but before reversing course and playing a shortened fall season after all.

Sasse brought up his beloved Huskers after the 2020 election. As many of his fellow Republicans were challenging the electoral college results, Sasse did not. Here’s the analogy he used:

“I can’t simply allege that the College Football Playoff Selection Committee is ‘on the take’ because they didn’t send the Cornhuskers to the Rose Bowl, and then — after I fail to show evidence that anyone on the Selection Committee is corrupt — argue that we need to investigate because of these pervasive ‘allegations’ of corruption.”

Sasse participated in a 2020 hearing about “protecting the integrity of college athletics” and asked some pointed questions to NCAA president Mark Emmert about taking care of injured athletes and insurance policies. He has not sponsored any bills related to name, image and likeness that I could find.

He has written many social media posts about football, including at least two that counted down the number of days until kickoff. When Nebraska red filled Colorado’s stadium in 2019, he congratulated the Huskers on “being the first school in the nation with home stadiums in both the Big Ten and the Pac-12.”

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In November 2017, someone asked him to resign.

“Not now,” Sasse responded on Twitter. “Watching football …”

Judging by the time and date (Nov. 11), it was likely Nebraska’s 54-21 loss to Minnesota.

Sasse has made multiple bets involving the Nebraska-Iowa game. In 2017, he had to wear Hawkeyes gear and spend a shift as an Uber driver in Des Moines.

A year later, he handed out giant turkey legs in front of Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium before a lecture.

Sasse also sold Runza sandwiches at Nebraska games for years. He stopped in 2019, according to a front-page story from the Lincoln Journal Star, after being accosted by a protester during the South Alabama game.

If Sasse gets the job, he will technically have other things to do besides football. But his role in athletics will matter. “Alignment” is one of the biggest buzzwords in the industry. Coaches want to have a president, athletic director and overall administration that are aligned with their visions. That alignment was a selling point for the Gators when they hired Billy Napier last year. We’ll see how Sasse fits into that.

I could not find anything in Sasse’s record about some of the pressing issues he’ll face if he’s approved in the coming weeks. I don’t know how he feels about football scheduling models when the SEC adds Texas and Oklahoma, nor do I know his stance on future SEC expansion. It’s also unclear whether he believes the Florida-Georgia game should stay in Jacksonville or be played on campus, at least occasionally.

Perhaps those questions will be asked Monday when he visits campus. He will also, presumably, be confronted with another extremely important topic: whether he has changed his stance on Nebraska’s 62-24 triumph over Florida in the January 1996 Fiesta Bowl.

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