Chancellor Harvey Perlman has been raked over the coals in recent years for a couple of decisions that infuriated many Nebraskans. First was the Steve Pederson fiasco – though at the time Perlman was lauded for hiring “the ideal candidate” for athletic director. Second was the move to take over the State Fairgrounds for UNL’s Innovation Campus, thus shipping the State Fair to Grand Island away from its 100 year home in Lincoln.
But bygones are mostly bygones today after Perlman helped engineer Nebraska’s move into the most powerful major college conference, the Big Ten. And it didn’t hurt that Perlman aggressively spelled out his case for leaving Texas behind in front of a statewide audience at the NU Board of Regents meeting last Friday.
While the remaining Big 12 (Southwest Conference, Part II) members are heading for a potentially lucrative deal, Nebraska gets the cash, the clout, the partners, and the stability that it has sought. There is no question that NU is the biggest winner in all of this conference shakedown 2010. It is the only school to improve both its academic and athletic finances and standing. It is the only school that is not wondering about tomorrow, both short and long-term.
But Nebraska is not the only winner. Texas has also won. They have exactly what they wanted, their own conference. Nebraskans had fought for years to deny that Texas was in control of the Big 12. Let there be no confusion from hence forward – you can call it Big 12, you could call it Great Plains League, or (my recommendation) the Southwest Conference – but this is Texas’s personal playground and the other 9 schools are just happy to be invited. The Longhorns will get more money, they’ll get their own television network and they’ll get to spin that they saved the Big 12 and were “looking out for their conference brothers.” Now, we all know that last part is Bevo droppings considering the Longhorns were playing footsie with three other leagues (SEC, Big Ten, Pac 10) in a game of college athletics Texas Hold ‘Em, but to the casual observer Texas looks like Superman. They put an end to the radical movements in college athletics that could have left Kansas without a major conference, preserved long-time rivalries and (for the college football purists) kept the college football playoff reality from an accelerated timeline.
I still think this revised Big 12 is doomed to fail, but Texas found out through this process that no matter what happens in the next go-around in conference musical chairs that they will have a place to land. They have muscled their way to the top along with Notre Dame as the two programs who carry the most influence in college athletics. For the surviving members of the Big 12, they had better hope that they treat this New Texas Order with the kind hand of a benevolent dictator.
As with in any game, winners must be counterbalanced with losers and there are a few. Missouri stands out like a black and gold thumb. The Tigers were not bashful about their displeasure with the Big 12’s revenue sharing plan. Their state politicians all but dropped to their knees to the Big Ten, begging for admission, but in the end no invite was coming. It does ease the pain that the Tigers won’t be left totally in the cold, but it has come at a terrific price. Their long-held dreams of Big Ten admission are busted for many years, maybe permanently and now as the other 8 teams feel a debt of gratitude to Texas, Missouri is going to feel down right subservient. If you want to compare this “new” Big 12 to a mafia family, Mizzou is Fredo Corleone after Michael found out about the betrayal. If I were Missouri AD Mike Alden, I wouldn’t schedule any fishing trips anytime soon.
Kansas basketball fans are breathing easier today, as they should. Their beloved team will still play in a good basketball conference and retain the prestige within their sport that they have earned since Dr. Naismith invented the game. But when you look at the global picture, KU hoops and Bill Self got a major jolt to the system that they are a smaller fish in a much bigger pond. The fact that KU came thisclose to being relegated to January and February conference dates with BYU, Air Force and Colorado State should scare Self to the point where he should make close friends with Turner Gill and convince his players to not mess with the football team anytime soon. Self may be the most decorated and popular man on campus, but it’s Gill (or whoever runs the football program) who wields the real power. Without a viable football program, Kansas is just another school.
Finally, I have to ask where Oklahoma was during this process? I thought they were a major player in college football? The Sooners silence on this subject and their apparent latching onto whatever Texas did is not totally surprising considering their rivalry, but if OU wanted to keep the Big 12 intact they seemed to exert zero influence over the situation. Maybe they didn’t care if Nebraska stayed or went. But even Oklahoma has to understand that a conference with themselves, Texas and Nebraska is better than a conference without the Huskers. And if they didn’t want NU to leave, then why couldn’t they have played a mediator as the two powers stared each other down? Of course, we weren’t privy to all the things behind the scenes, but Oklahoma was strangely silent and seemingly ambivalent to all the things blowing around them like a tornado. Even though OU stands to make upper-tier money along with UT and A&M, they still come across today as another one of Texas’s dwarves.
Now onto the future. The Big Ten. Plenty of opinions will be given on the alignment of the Big Ten’s divisions. While I understand the desire for geographic balance, this new day for the Big Ten allows for an opportunity to see things in a new way. The Big Ten now brags the #1 (Michigan), #4 (Nebraska), #5 (Ohio State) and #9 (Penn State) winningest programs of all time. This conference has a golden opportunity to showcase these four teams in a way that nobody else can. I believe the divisions must reflect that. With that said, I am for putting Ohio State and Michigan in one division and Penn State and Nebraska in another. Then, take advantage of those divisional matchups by having a Super Saturday where the Saturday before Thanksgiving you have the traditional OSU/Michigan war along with the new division rivalry between the Huskers and Nittany Lions. With that said, here are my proposed divisional alignments.
Division A – Nebraska, Penn State, Iowa, Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan State
Division B – Michigan, Ohio State, Indiana, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Illinois
Then, I would follow the SEC’s crossover formula allowing for the continuation of annual rivalry games. They would be:
Then an every two-year home-and-home rotation between Division A teams Nebraska, Penn State and Iowa and Division B teams Ohio State, Northwestern and Illinois.
There will no doubt be sentiment that the Big Ten football championship should be contested in a dome that is conducive to fan travel. That narrows your choices to Detroit, Minneapolis and Indianapolis. Nothing against any of those cities. But now that the NFL has shown a willingness to take a chance with an outdoor, cold weather site Super Bowl (New York/New Jersey), I don’t think you can rule out a once-every-five-years attempt to play in two of the most iconic football locales – Soldier Field and Lambeau Field.
Cold? You bet your frost-bitten butt. But any football player that doesn’t want to play on the field once graced by Walter Payton or Vince Lombardi isn’t someone who would want to play in the Big Ten in the first place.
The only thing better than Big Red in Green Bay? The Huskers scheduling their own game with Northwestern in Wrigley Field.
Just dreaming. It’s fun to dream in the Big Ten. And no more Texas nightmares.
I know nine other schools that are waking up to visions of orange cows dancing in their heads.