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2010 Jun 11

Full-Hearted Huskers, Big Ten Bold

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By HuskerLocker

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He lunched at a picnic bench under a grove of low-slung trees outside the dairy store. Walked back into the basement meeting room of Varner Hall, where the University of Nebraska Board of Regents convene, wearing the shades you clip to your eyeglasses. He took them off, and like the old don he clearly has become, Harvey Perlman stood up, walked to a modest podium, and murdered the heads of the five families.

It was business. And maybe just a little personal.

“Nebraska did not start this discussion,” said the University of Nebraska-Lincoln chancellor.

But Perlman, in ten short minutes, finished it, erecting the Big 12’s headstone in the process.

It reads: Here lies an organization riddled with agendas, filled with administrators and athletic directors either bloviating, ineffectual or corrupt, run almost solely by Texas’ weird, megalomaniacal compulsions to have a finger in every pie, presided over by a short-sighted, meat-headed functionary in Dan Beebe, way out of his league, just looking for a way to keep his giblets together for a measly six years while he jumped out the fire escape.

That’s some chisel.

Who falls for a league like that? Not Perlman. He may like Texas, he may have done business with Texas, but he never trusted Texas. Or perhaps he trusted Texas to be Texas. Which the Longhorns were. In spades.

NU moved to the Big Ten. Just. Like. That. First-round knockout of Missouri. Technical knockout of Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State, and a symbolic haymaker to the Big 12 South. Oklahoma prefers its rivalry to Texas? Have fun in the arroyo, Sooners. Lucky Colorado didn’t even have to get in the ring. The Pac-10 must have wanted discounts on Aspen ski rates.

Perlman led the way. Athletic director Tom Osborne took a few minutes to warm up, but, as if channeling his inner Jimmy Stewart - the outer being already matches well enough - the old coach delivered a lovely, logical summation to just how nuts it was to blame Nebraska for leaving when it was Texas who threatened to walk if NU didn’t commit, on the spot, to stay - until 2016? For all of six years? That’s some marriage! Try running a law firm like that. Hey - unless the junior partner stays, the senior partner bolts and takes three of his best litigators across town! Gah!

“One school leaving a conference does not break up a conference,” Osborne said. “Two schools leaving a conference does not break up a conference. Six schools leaving a conference breaks up a conference.”

And then this sweet little dig:

“We have acted independently, we have been transparent, we’ve let people in the Big 12 Conference know what we were thinking, we have not hidden any agenda, we dealt with only one conference and we’ve been straight up with them. We’ve not tried to influence or coerce anyone to go with us or anything else.”

Friday’s proceedings were about a hundred things, but at the heart of them all lied this: Modest Nebraska had the guts to be bold. O, Pioneers! The Big Ten’s gotta lotta loot, and a horde of schools were waiting for commissioner Jim Delany‘s golden ticket. Most of them attracted more media attention than NU did.

But the Huskers got the prize first, and that’s the way we’ll remember it. Nebraska didn’t settle. It didn’t wait. It didn’t pat Missouri on the back as the Tigers danced their way to the Big Ten. It didn’t prefer to hold the hands of Kansas and Kansas State, defeated as they may be.

NU has almost always considered the needs of others before its own, and while the motto stands as good in a man’s life, an educational institution must best equip its students to live that kind of life. And you’re only going to do that if you rise up with a full heart and, for once, muster the gumption to ask, seek, knock and pray. And get deliverance.

You’re probably thinking, today, about whether Bo Pelini will head to the Horseshoe in 2011. But the impact of this move is far broader than that. The Big Ten brand will attract companies, investors and jobs. It’ll plug NU undergraduates into better choices for grad schools, and it’ll improve Nebraska’s grad schools in the process, too. It’ll lift up an already excellent University of Nebraska Medical Center to greater heights. It will help retain Nebraska’s brightest high school scholars. Not overnight - but soon.

And see, NU’s always been thought of a “nice” school with some “good” programs. Depending on your major, it was a good fit, but prevailing notion was that Nebraska’s private colleges were superior in many areas. Missouri and Kansas? Just plum better. I’m not here to rile up a debate. But the Big Ten brand will make it a lot more interesting. You don’t just fall out of an apple cart into the Big Ten. The invite confirms what many Nebraskans have begun to understand: UNL is a different place in the last decade. Certainly since Perlman took over as chancellor after serving as Dean of the UNL Law College.

The man is a damn assassin and you probably didn’t know it. He knows poker; he gambled his career on it.

In 2003, after he cut tenured faculty positions in face of withering state budget cuts, Perlman, just two years into his stint as chancellor, faced a vote of no confidence from the UNL Academic Senate. So he went right over their heads - straight to the entire faculty, which he thought might view the matter more pragmatically than as a sacred cow never to be slaughtered.

The faculty voted for him to stay by a vote of 914-110. Wipeout win. Except Perlman had no Jimmy Chitwood as a bargaining chip.

Perlman managed, over many years and skillful planning, to dislodge the Nebraska State Fair from its home. It now resides in Grand Island; NU will build Innovation Campus in its wake.

He fired Steve Pederson just months after giving him a huge raise and didn’t blink while doing it. Consider that Pederson, like Perlman did in 2003, made cuts and changes deemed unpopular in the athletic department. His supporters argued he shed dead weight; his detractors presented him as a tyrant.

Could Perlman view any similarities? Apparently not. He sacked the prominent chin on his silver mane.

As honcho of a profoundly-flawed college football merit system, Perlman was asked to defend the BCS in Congress, giving plain-spoken arguments that frankly fly in the face of fair play, but leave him undeterred anyhow. His line about Utah playing Nebraska’s schedule? Priceless. Elitest, uncompromising, brief, unfair and, well, kinda true.

Perlman often is to his target as life is to most of us.

But he’s our assassin, and Friday, he spoke firmly the words Nebraskans wanted to hear. Osborne, a courtly relief pitcher, softened the barbs, but his sense of justice - and Osborne has a sense of justice - wouldn’t allow him to let the moment pass. Together, they stood as twin backbones to an impressive body of work on and off the field, a perseverance that produced character, and, as a result, excellence.

Like I said Thursday: No regrets. The Big Ten may be a family, but it’s a competitive, accomplished bunch of siblings, and Nebraska’s will have to catch up fast.

So let’s just do this now and let Bo and Co. take it from here in 2010.

Goodbye, Big 12. Hello, Cosgrove.

And as for that buyout penalty? You can have Perlman’s answer now, commissioner Beebe.

Nothing.

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Tags: big ten expansion, tom osborne, harvey perlman

Comments (2)

Profile image for huskerfanbb
huskerfanbb

Whether or not there is any "penalty" depends on if there is a Big 12 to collect said penalty. I don't think Perlman and NU can get out of it if the league survives beyond 2011 (although they may have a good court case if 2012 is to be the last year). If Texas et.al. are all bolting for the Pac whatever, it will leave KU, KSU, Iowa State, and Mizzou little choice but to explore their options outside of the current conference. Mountain West for some, surely, maybe conference USA, and the Big East wouldn't be out of the question for Kansas (a LOT of travel time there, though).

– Jun 14, 2010 at 11:43 am

Profile image for JiminDallas
JiminDallas

Since the TV money flows through the conference office to the schools,Perlman better get the lawyers ready.

– Jun 12, 2010 at 9:42 pm

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