Nebraska Cornhuskers football suspends red ball tradition due to helium shortage

Nebraska will suspend its tradition of throwing red balls after the first touchdown in home games due to a worldwide helium shortage, athletic director Trev Alberts announced on his radio show Monday.

Alberts said Nebraska won’t be handing out red balls until home games at Memorial Stadium this fall. The tradition of dropping the balls after Nebraska’s first touchdown at home began in the 1960s.

The helium shortage and supply chain issues stem in part from sanctions on Russia, one of the world’s top helium suppliers, following its invasion of Ukraine.

“Acquiring helium these days, some of its production is really hard, and it’s hard to get,” Alberts said. “So the university asked us, the helium that we get as a university, we have to use it for medical purposes at [University of Nebraska Medical Center] in Omaha. And so this year we are not going to provide the red balls for the first time at Memorial Stadium.”

Alberts said Nebraska’s marketing department is working on alternative celebrations, including digital renders. He also acknowledged the environmental concerns that some have expressed over the years about the balloon tradition.

In 2016, a Nebraska man filed a lawsuit against the university, claiming the balloons posed a health hazard to young children and wildlife after they returned to the ground. Nebraska’s student government voted in November to end the tradition, though it does not oversee game day events.

Alberts, an All-America linebacker at Nebraska who took over as athletic director in July, said he loves the red ball tradition.

“As we looked at it as a sports department, it became very clear that with a very limited supply of helium it was going to be difficult to get,” Alberts said.