Nebraska seeks Big Ten membership
Chancellor Harvey Perlman disclosed the plan during a meeting of the university’s Board of Regents, proposing that play in the new conference begin in 2011 after one more year in the Big 12. He said he believed Nebraska is much more “aligned” with the Big Ten than the Big 12 when it comes to academics, culture and athletics.
The move offers stability “that the Big 12 simply cannot offer,” Perlman said, and the regents unanimously approved a resolution supporting a move to the Big Ten.
Nebraska must be accepted by Big Ten presidents and Perlman said he expected that vote to come soon. The Big Ten confirmed it had Nebraska’s application but offered no timeline for a decision.
Asked if there was a chance the Big Ten would reject Nebraska, athletic director Tom Osborne said: “I guess there is always a chance. We would be surprised, but you never know.”
Adding Nebraska would be the Big Ten’s first expansion since 1990, when Penn State joined. Big 12 officials in Dallas did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Nebraska’s move comes at the end of a crazy week in college athletics.
On Thursday, fellow Big 12 member Colorado announced it was leaving for the Pac-10. Texas and other schools in the Big 12 South – Perlman told the regents that the Pac-10 had been in touch with many schools in that division – could be the next to leave. Texas regents scheduled a meeting for Tuesday to discuss the Longhorns’ future in the Big 12.
“One school leaving a conference does not destroy a conference,” Perlman said. “Nebraska did not start this discussion. After the Big Ten announced it planned to consider expansion, we saw reports that Missouri would want to go to the Big Ten, including a statement by their governor, a member of board of curators and chancellor – comments that weren’t clearly supportive of the Big 12.”
Osborne, the longtime football coach, agreed.
“As we read the tea leaves and listened to the conversations, some of the schools that were urging us to stay, we found some of them had talked to not only one other conference or two but even three, and those were the same ones urging us to stay,” he said.
To generations of Nebraska fans, going to the Big Ten at one time would have been unthinkable. The school’s athletic tradition is built on more than a century of football games against the likes of Missouri and Kansas, dating to the days the team was known as the Bugeaters.
The Huskers, in fact, have been conference partners with Iowa State, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Kansas State since 1928; with Colorado since 1948 and with Oklahoma State since 1960.
Now the Huskers are on the verge of taking their five national titles in football and three Heisman trophies east. They will look to start building new traditions, like a border rivalry with the Iowa Hawkeyes and regular trips to Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.
At Iowa State, a Big 12 school rarely mentioned in realigment discussions, officials sent an open letter to boosters expressing disappointment in the moves by Colorado and Nebraska.
“But as all of the discussions about conference realignment illustrate, the future of college athletics appears to be less about academics and competitive success and more about money, as measured by television viewership and the associated revenues,” the letter said.
Fatter paychecks will be coming to Nebraska, eventually. Nebraska received about $10 million from the Big 12 in 2009, half the $20 million received by Big Ten members (thanks largely to bigger television contracts and the in-house Big Ten Network).
The Big Ten told Perlman that no current member would receive a reduced share of revenue from the conference because of the addition of a new member. Perlman said Nebraska has been assured it would not receive less than it did in the Big 12, however, if it joins the Big Ten.
“This is not a financial windfall,” Osborne said.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has said he wanted to add only members that would be considered “home runs.” The Huskers’ football team struggled in the early and mid 2000s but have returned to national prominence the past two seasons under coach Bo Pelini, an Ohio State alumnus.
Regent Tim Clare said the football resurgence helped Nebraska’s cause in conference realignment.
“We were losing our edge athletically before coach Pelini came back,” he said. “His success has resonated throughout the athletic department. The leaders we’ve got in place, the great coaches we have ... Look at the position we’re in now.”
As for the Big 12, it never was a comfortable fit for the Huskers.
When the league formed, Nebraska football was at its pinnacle, having won three national titles between 1994-97 and winning 60 of 63 games before Osborne retired as coach.
That success didn’t translate to juice when it came to influencing league policies.
Nebraska and the old Big Eight members, all of whom went to the Big 12, believed they were helping out Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor when the old Southwest Conference collapsed.
The perception in Nebraska was that the Big 12’s balance of power was held by the South Division, particularly the University of Texas.
Nebraska from day one was against a championship game in football, for fear it could trip up a team bidding for a national title. But even issues ranging from academic admission standards to location of the league office (Dallas) chafed Nebraska.
When the league last week picked Cowboys Stadium to host the next three conference championship football games – after hosting the 2009 and 2010 games – Osborne complained that continual treks south are unfair to fans of the North representative.
And no one in Nebraska has forgotten the controversial outcome of last year’s conference title game. It looked like the Huskers had beaten the Longhorns 12-10 when the clock ran out, but one second was put back on, allowing Texas to kick the winning field goal. Pelini yelled outside the locker room that Texas was given the extra second so it could go to the BCS championship game.