Nebraska will get more than TV dollars by joining the Big Ten
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Today, for only the third time
in almost a century, the Big Ten will officially admit another university
to the league. Nebraska left the Big Eight conference to start
playing Big Ten football this fall. The Cornhuskers will receive
a slice of the much bigger Big Ten TV pie, but that might not be the
best reason to join.
To celebrate Nebraska joining
the nation’s oldest conference, the Big Ten Network will be kicking
off three days of non-stop programming. Now I’m the kind of
guy who might actually watch three days of non-stop programming about
the Cornhuskers, but you might have other priorities this holiday weekend.
So, I’m here to tell you what you need to know in three easy minutes.
Adding Nebraska is nothing
but good for the Big Ten, which needs 12 teams to host a lucrative conference
championship game. Nebraska’s football program is one of the
most successful and respected in the nation, and their fans are gracious
in victory or defeat. They have class.
They’re based in Lincoln,
and their most famous alum is a guy named Warren Buffett, who still
sits with the common folk in the cheap seats.
The Bo Schembechler of Nebraska
football is Tom Osborne. He took over in 1973, after his mentor
retired by winning two consecutive National Titles. But
Osborne had to wait a decade for his first chance at a national crown.
He finally got it in the Orange Bowl against the Miami Hurricanes, the
anti-matter of the conservative, corny Cornhuskers. The ‘Canes engaged
in toxic levels of trash talk, and were led the next year by Jimmy Johnson, who now
shills for a “male enhancement” product called ExtenZe.
The Cornhuskers, in contrast,
celebrate their touchdowns by handing the ball to the referee.
Whether ahead by thirty or down by three, Osborne looked about as animated
as a flight attendant explaining how to buckle your seatbelt.
When Osborne retired, he skipped pitching for ExtenZe to become a Congressman
– though, given recent Congressional photo scandals, maybe that’s
But under the surface, Osborne
was surprisingly bold. In the final moments of that 1984 national
title game against Miami, he decided not to kick the easy extra point
for a tie – which would have secured his first national title -- and
instead went for the riskier two-point conversion to win. It failed,
they lost, and Osborne had to wait another decade to win his first national
title. But recently he explained that playing for a tie would
have been insulting to his players and the people of Nebraska, who appreciate
good football, and he would never vote for a team that played for a
tie. In my book, that’s pretty cool.
By joining the Big Ten, Nebraska
will get more money, more fans, and more visitors. David Byrne
of Talking Heads once wrote that no one pays money to see flat landscape
– and Nebraska is so flat, you can see three state capitols just by
standing on a park bench. But people will pay to see great football.
Nebraska is a solid school,
but ranks in the Big Ten’s lower half academically. Fewer than
half its students graduate. This gives rise to an old joke: What
does the “N” on Nebraska’s helmet stand for? Knowledge.
But, in joining the Big Ten,
Nebraska’s faculty is automatically admitted to the Committee on Institutional
Cooperation, or CIC, which provides a big boost to the Big Ten’s big
research universities. Since Penn State joined the Big Ten twenty
years ago, its research income has tripled, to 780 million dollars.
Nebraska is not the first school
to leverage football to improve its academics. Chicago, Notre
Dame, and Michigan State, among others, have all done it, and done it
Twenty years from now, the
N on Nebraska’s helmet might stand for Nobel laureates – and the
joke will be on the Big Eight schools Nebraska just left behind.
Copyright© 2011, Michigan Radio
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