Official Husker Locker Blog
2010 Jun 11
NU BIG TEN: Nebraska in Big Ten Heaven
Against what may have seemed considerable - indeed, impossible - odds just a few months ago, NU made its move to the Big Ten - which some consider the nation’s premier collection of Division I academic institutions - when the Nebraska Board Regents Friday voted 8-0 to approve NU’s resolution to apply for membership and the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors voted 11-0 to accept it.
Later, at NU’s Van Brunt Visitors’ Center on campus, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany - wearing a candy-cane tie and a block red “N” pin - made a surprise appearance welcoming Nebraska to the league. He called the league a “small company” and “family” whose chancellors and presidents had “great enthusiasm” for this “historic moment.” It’s the first time the Big Ten has added a member since Penn State in 1990.
“Nebraska will be a great member of the Big Ten,” Delany said. “We’re stronger today than we were yesterday.”
“The things that are important to you are important to us,” Delany said.
Said UNL chancellor Harvey Perlman at the Board of Regents meeting: “We are, as an institution, more closely aligned in culture, competitive conditions, athletic budgets and academic aspirations with the Big Ten. On the academic side particularly.”
Athletic director Tom Osborne said the Big Ten would “enhance many of our sports” and that the coaches of all Husker teams - many of whom were assembled at the Visitors’ Center - had unanimously agreed, in two different votes, to make the move
In athletics, Nebraska is scheduled to become a member July 1, 2011. It may owe a hefty buyout penalty - paid in terms of lost revenue - to the Big 12 Conference, although Perlman deemed it “inappropriate” because of the potential collapse of the league and confusing Big 12 bylaws, which he said could be construed four different ways.
Said Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, who called Nebraska’s departure “disappointing:” “That’s contrary to our bylaws to me. I’m curious as to what their piece is for that.”
Penalty or not - Nebraska’s making the leap in just under one calendar year, which is sure to rankle Big 12 members already accusing NU with the destruction of the league.
“It may not be a real easy year on the athletic field,” Osborne said. He meant it in more than one way; Nebraska must transition quickly and figure out scheduling, but is also likely to be branded a villain for its quick movement to the Big Ten.
That’s part of why head football coach Bo Pelini, an Ohio State graduate who grew up on Big Ten athletics, would “concentrate on the task at hand.”
“I’m not a real emotional guy,” Pelini seemed to say seriously, then, gauging the relative disbelief of the media, jokingly.
“You would gotten the same response if we had joined the NFL,” Perlman joked.
Delany committed to putting Nebraska athletics on the Big Ten Network in 2010. The Network - a massive profit-generating engine that makes its money almost solely off of cable-subscriber fees - often runs university programming that highlights a school’s academic advantages right alongside sporting events. Right before the BTN aired NU’s press conference, for example, it presented an program from Indiana University about an aquatics expert who doused his body in paraffin for a long, experimental dip in the sea.
The BTN is a good chunk of the $20.1 million in television revenue each league school received last year, a figure that outpaces, on average, any other conference. In order to join Big Ten, Nebraska had to assign its TV rights in all its sports to the conference, something that other league candidates, such as Texas and Notre Dame, seem unwilling to do.
“The Big Ten Network will help recruiting,” Osborne said. “One thing parents want to know is “will I be able to see my student-athlete compete?”
At the Regents’ meeting, Perlman intimated that the absence of such a network in the Big 12 - Texas preferred to develop its own Longhorns Sports Network - was, in a sense, the first domino in NU’s departure.
“That would have prevented any of the institutions from leaving,” Beebe said.
Nebraska will not get a full share of revenue immediately, although it will receive at least much as it would in the Big 12. Big Ten members will receive no less than their usual share.
“This will not be a windfall,” Osborne said.
At “some point” in the future, Perlman said, NU would be made “fully whole.”
How long will that take?
“It’s not public information,” Delany said.
Divisions - if indeed there will be divisions - have not been decided, Delany said. A common-sense approach would have Nebraska on the same “western” side as Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Northwestern and Illinois, but the Big Ten can prefer atypical solutions. Having 11 teams, and thus eschewing a conference title game, is one of them.
Rivalries -such as the ones between Michigan-Ohio State and Indiana-Purdue - will be considered.
“But not all rivalries are equal,” Delany said.
The Big Ten may not be finished expanding, either; Delany said the Big Ten will “pause for a moment,” but that pause could be months, years - or the time you take between breaths.
“We’re going to be open and aware to what’s going on around the country,” Delany said. “We’re going to continue the study process.”
Academic integration into the Council of Institutional Cooperation - that’s the current Big Ten and the University of Chicago - begins immediately. The CIC is an organizational giant in nabbing federal research dollars - $6.4 billion last year alone - that should considerably boost Nebraska’s academic profile, plus student recruiting efforts in cities such as Chicago and Minneapolis, Perlman said.
In his comments, Delany seemed most intent on executing this part of the integration as quickly and effectively as possible. The Big Ten would learn the university culture and increase its visibility in population centers such as Omaha and Lincoln.
“We want to put a lot of emphasis on early integration,” Delany said.
Nebraska’s underrated academic profile played a key role in the Big Ten’s courtship. NU is a member of the American Association of Universities - “considerable importance when you recruit faculty,” Perlman said - has revamped its research facilities over the last decade, improved its rankings in just about every publication and, now that the State Fair moved to Grand Island, has procured the Fairgrounds to develop Innovation Campus.
“We have a similar institutional vision,” Delany said.
Even so - Nebraska’s ascendancy to the Big Ten was swift and unexpected.
At a dramatic Regents meeting that sent ripple waves across college athletics, Perlman indicated that NU wasn’t considering a move until Missouri and Colorado started speaking openly about leaving to the Big Ten and Pac-10, respectively.
“We thought Nebraska was in a very vulnerable position,” Perlman said.
So Perlman and Osborne sought an informal meeting “three or four weeks ago” with Delany and the Big Ten and found that Nebraska’s goals and values aligned well with the league.
“But that’s all we walked away with,” Perlman said.
NU’s candidacy shot to the top of the pile when, at Big 12 meetings held in early June, Texas forced the hands of Nebraska, Missouri and Colorado by announcing it had a blockbuster offer from the Pac-10, which intended to invite six teams from the Big 12 to join a super conference.
The Big 12 issued an ultimatum: Commit to us by June 15, or risk watching the Texas Six bolt for the West Coast. Perlman relayed his timetable to Delany.
“I also told him that was my problem, not his,” Perlman said.
The clock ticked. Perlman said he asked Texas to relinquish its rights to football and basketball to the Big 12 - thus, in effect, creating a Big 12 Network. UT declined. Perlman said he also asked Texas President Bill Powers if the Longhorns would stick with the Big 12 even if Mizzou and CU left.
“They could make no commitment,” Perlman said.
Wednesday, two days before the move, Perlman got a call from Beebe. The offer was this: An unequivocal commitment to the Big 12. But only until 2016.
“Neither Tom nor I thought that was a very long-term commitment to the Big 12,” Perlman said.
That set in motion a move to the Big Ten. The Regents met by conference call on Wednesday to add a resolution to the agenda. By Friday morning, Delany put in the call to Beebe: Nebraska’s applying. We’re accepting.
Perlman and Osborne spent much of their Regents presentation laying out a compelling case that Texas’ unwillingness to compromise - and its Pac-10 gambit - lie at the roots of Nebraska’s departure and the potential destruction of the Big 12.
Osborne, subdued and congenial for most of the day, slightly raised his tone and sharpened his inflection for his short-but-damning summation.
“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.
“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.”
Later, Osborne extended an olive branch to his former league.
“I don’t want members of the Big 12 to feel that somehow we look down upon them or we’re glad that we’re gone,” he said. “If some of them end up in unpleasant circumstances we’re sorry about that.”
For now it does not appear any of them are joining Nebraska in the Big Ten. Beebe said he didn’t believe the league was further interested in any other member school, which would include Missouri, which believed itself a certainty just one month ago.
The Big Ten, founded in 1896 as the Western Conference - or, in some circles, as simply “The Conference” - is the nation’s oldest Division 1-A athletic conference. It started with seven members - Chicago, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin. Iowa and Indiana joined in 1899 and the league renamed itself “The Big Nine.” Ohio State joined in 1912 while the Wolverines had a nine-year hiatus from 1907-1916.
When UM returned in 1917, a true “Big Ten” was born. Chicago dropped football in 1939 and left the league for good in 1946. Michigan State joined for the 1950 season and Penn State joined in 1990 for academics, and 1993 for athletics.
The league tried to persuade Notre Dame to join several times in the 1990s, but could not convince ND to abandon its football independence.
On Dec. 20, 2009, Delany - who’s served as commissioner for the Big Ten since 1989 - announced the league would explore expansion possibilities. Since then, more than a dozen names have been attached to getting invites. Nebraska is the first to join, although Delany has stated that the Big Ten could expand “in phases.”
The academic boost for Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten could be significant. The league - along with the University of Chicago - has created the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, which pools resources and helps collect research dollars for its member universities. Last year, CIC schools performed $6.4 billion in federally-funded scientific research last year.
In the latest US News &World Report Best College rankings, the University of Chicago - a key member fo the CIC - is No. 8 nationally. Northwestern is No. 12, Michigan is No. 24, Illinois and Wisconsin are tied for 39th, Penn State is No. 47,
Athletically, Michigan boasts the most conference titles with 343 - and the most football titles with 11, all but accumulated before 1950 - but Penn State has the most national titles with 38.
The Big Ten has struggled in its cash cow sport of football from a national title perspective; since 1970, only Michigan (1997) and Ohio State (2002) have crowns, as PSU’s two national titles in 1982 and 1986 were achieved as independents. Penn State went undefeated in 1994, but Nebraska claimed both the AP and Coaches’ poll titles that season.
Overall, Nebraska is 79-68-10 vs. the Big Ten, but 39-6 since 1962. NU has played Minnesota the most with 51 games, and Purdue only once.
The overall records:
Michigan State (5-0)
Ohio State (0-2)
Penn State (6-7)
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