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C O M M E N T A R Y
T A D    S T R Y K E R
June 6, 2010

 
The recent Big 12 Conference meetings in Kansas City reminded me of the soap operas my mother used to watch. Or even worse, the “reality TV” shows that fill the airwaves.

Actually, the unfolding drama is not confined to the Big 12. If second-rate theater is what you’re craving, you can find it all over as the Big Ten, the Pac-10 and the Southeastern Conference stir up their own versions of expansion fever.

Even if P.T. Barnum, Don King and Jerry Springer had teamed up on an ad campaign, they wouldn’t have been able to manufacture the false sense of need and anxiety that’s careening like a runaway H1N1 virus through the college sports world.

I guess it’s the high school prom atmosphere of this rumor festival that amazes me most. It’s the one-upsmanship in general, and the “We didn’t start this, but we can end it” attitude of Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds, in particular.

Hey, Mom, this is why I was reluctant to go to my senior prom. I didn’t like all the intrigue.

How about we all stay where we are and get ready for the football season? Nebraska and Missouri should end the Big Ten talk. Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado should quash the rumors about their impending jump to the Pac-10.

This must be real serious stuff, because everybody’s going crazy over how much money some other conference has, and the University of Nebraska is caught in the middle of it. People – both inside and outside the state – are making it sound like if NU doesn’t cut some back-alley deal soon, it’ll miss the last flight out of town, and end up stuck far behind financially in some kind of NCAA arms race.

It’s too bad that Tom Osborne, as athletic director, has to be in the middle of this. To his credit, he’s representing himself – and the University – with his usual character and good taste. And I think he realizes it’s all a bit overblown. I think chancellor Harvey Perlman does, too.

Dear Old Nebraska U is not on the way to the poorhouse. And if Nebraska, the smallest BCS state in the Union, doesn’t use that argument, no other BCS school should, either.

Consider this. Even without belonging to a mega-conference, and while living under the terms of what now seems to be largely considered a lousy TV deal with ABC, ESPN and Fox Sports Net, Nebraska is doing well. Turns out that the University of Nebraska had enough money to enlarge Memorial Stadium to more than 81,000 seats, and is thinking of another expansion project. Somehow, the Cornhuskers have built an excellent indoor football practice facility.

Have we all forgotten? NU is in the process of finishing an $8 million upgrade to one of the nation’s finest academic facilities for student-athletes. It is also building a new basketball practice facility, and will be starting soon on a new state-of-the-art basketball arena in partnership with the City of Lincoln.

Yet, the common perception in this rush to a mega-conference is that Nebraska and all the Big 12 schools need more money – much, much more money, and right now.

So explain how joining a new, supercharged mega-conference will help improve life for Nebraska’s student-athletes. What much-needed improvements that are not already on the drawing board will the new influx of cash bring to Husker athletes who take part in football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, track and field, softball and wrestling? How will it help their lives? How will the extra cash compensate for increasing their travel time and making it mathematically harder to win conference championships?

This whole issue smacks of salary envy, the type of thing that makes a center fielder who earns $10 million a year start complaining because his buddy in a rival city has a new contract for $12 million a year. They both have more than enough, but it’s all about “How much more money could I be making?” It’s all about yielding to a culture of dissatisfaction, which is bad enough on a personal level, but even worse on an institutional or a conference level.

Sure, I know that major-college sports are big business, and I have no problem with that. But I do have a problem with the business end of college sports becoming bigger than the game itself, and the people who are playing and coaching the game. If college sports moves into larger, more powerful mega-conferences, it risks losing most of the things that make it great. And, of course, it invites Congress to step in with tighter regulation of the industry.

If John Wooden was trying to get his “Pyramid of Success” into print today, a lot of publishers and media execs would do some heavy editing. They’d de-emphasize traits like team spirit and loyalty and substitute things like marketability and TV ratings. They’d say Wooden’s ideas are too folksy, simple and humble. But you can’t convince me that Wooden whispered for the creation of the Pac-16 on his deathbed. The sportsmanship, character development and, yes, the rivalries of college sports should take priority over a little extra profit.

On second thought, it’s a good thing Nebraska has Osborne – a Hall of Fame coach, a former congressman and a kindred spirit to Wooden – to represent its athletic department in times like these.

Various media reports are claiming Nebraska essentially has the deciding vote on whether the Big 12 stays together. If that’s true, it’s highly ironic, since the Huskers have found themselves on the short end of many an 11-1 vote in conference meetings.

So be it. At the end of the day, the Cornhuskers should vote for the best interests of student-athletes and the great traditions of college sports. If Nebraska can keep the mega-conferences from forming, it should do so. Hopefully, this soap opera has run its course.

 

Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at tad.stryker@gmail.com. | Archive

 
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