CHICAGO — Kayla Caffey at one point wanted to play volleyball for Nebraska this season.
Coach John Cook said at Big Ten media days Monday that the Huskers wanted Caffey, too. But the two sides never got on the same page at the same time throughout several months that were complicated by the need for an NCAA waiver, Nebraska’s appeal of a potential penalty if she returned and Nebraska exploring if Caffey could be on the team as a walk-on instead of a scholarship player.
Caffey announced late last week she is entering the NCAA transfer portal, which indicates she will play college volleyball elsewhere this fall.
Last winter, the NCAA granted Caffey a waiver to play this season, but Nebraska never confirmed Caffey would return to the team. She needed a waiver because it would be her seventh year in a college program, including a redshirt season, a medical redshirt and the COVID season.
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She practiced with the Huskers in the spring and spent time with the team this summer.
In a social media post last week, Caffey said if she stayed at Nebraska, she wouldn’t be able to have one of the scholarships for the fall semester, and that she learned of that part of the equation just a few weeks ago.
Cook appeared to be disputing that on that Monday afternoon, saying that “she had everything covered.” But a few hours later Cook clarified that Caffey did not have a scholarship and was working on NIL deals which would have helped make up some of the difference for her not being on a full athletic scholarship.
“To clarify my press conference statement at Big Ten Media Days earlier today, Kayla did not have an athletic scholarship for this upcoming fall semester,” Cook said in a statement released to the media. “Kayla had been working on outside NIL deals that would cover her expenses, but she notified me last week she was going to enter the transfer portal. Kayla was a great Husker. While we anticipated having her be a part of this year’s team, I respect that this is a personal decision for her. We wish her the best going forward.”
An athletic scholarship would be guaranteed support, while NIL would not.
If Caffey would have returned and been on scholarship, Cook says she would have counted for two scholarships, which eliminates a scholarship for next season.
Cook spent several minutes Monday explaining the “very unique situation” from his side.
Last season, Cook asked Caffey if she wanted to come back — and she said she would.
“Our compliance people went through months of work to get her that seventh year, (of eligibility)” Cook said. “It was not a done deal. It was very complicated. They worked hard to get that passed.
“They also hit us with a year penalty if she was going to play at Nebraska that we could take this year or next year. So we continued to have discussions and I double-checked with Kayla and said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this because this is going to cost us a lot?’”
Cook wanted to make sure Caffey was coming back for the right reasons — a process he would do for any player. He asked Caffey why she wanted to come back, and she responded that she wanted to help Nebraska win a national championship.
“Things continued to unfold,” Cook said. “We made a couple appeals and things changed, but by May it was all worked out and the ball was in her court. As far as I knew she was coming back. I was waiting for her to do her announcement, which all of these transfers do. It’s like going through recruiting again. We were waiting for that and it never happened. And then last week she said she was done. That’s about all I know.”
Cook was asked if Caffey had gotten frustrated by the drawn-out process. He said it could have been several things, including name, image, likeness.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I think NIL poisons people’s minds I’ve seen. And I think when you don’t have a strong motivation to come back, and a lot of these super-seniors they’re using that fifth year like, ‘Oh, I got an extra year so I’m just going to go somewhere fun, and do this or that.’ I don’t know what’s going through her mind. It has been confusing, and back-and-forth, but we’ve had it worked out since May, and she was here all summer.”
Nebraska senior Madi Kubik wished Caffey well, adding that her decision did not catch the players off-guard.
“Once I knew she wasn’t going to be with us I think it opened up to a lot of possibilities,” Kubik said. “She could transfer, she could go play pro, she could be done. It’s her seventh year. That’s a lot of volleyball. I wasn’t that surprised considering that you have three options right there. I don’t think it’s very surprising, and I just hope that she’s successful and happy.
“We love her and we’ll miss her. She’s a great teammate. She’s my locker buddy.”
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