June 11, 2010 – Big Ten Day – definitely was a defining moment in the history of the University of Nebraska.
But I couldnt summon up much enthusiasm as I listened to Lane Grindle gush on his Sports Nightly radio show about how it may be the greatest day in the history of Nebraska sports.
I reserve those kinds of feelings for action on the field of play. Say the words, Greatest Husker moments, and I immediately think of Jeff Kinney crashing into the Oklahoma end zone on Thanksgiving Day 1971, or Cory Schlesinger rumbling home for a fourth-quarter Orange Bowl touchdown as the Cornhuskers beat Miami in their own backyard to give Tom Osborne his first national title. I think of Blackshirts and Bob Devaney, not defections and Don Beebe.
But I do see the logic in Tom Osbornes and Harvey Perlmans decision to lead NU from the Big 12 to the Big Ten, a decision that was finalized Friday by the unanimous votes of the NU Board of Regents and the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors.
The Big 12 had become too rickety to lean on, and likely would have come crashing down within four or five years. And at that point, Nebraska may have had no option even remotely as good as the one it held in its hand in June 2010.
As I have learned more about the academic advantages the Big Ten membership has for Nebraska, and as I listened to Osbornes assertion that it may result in more job opportunities for the Cornhusker State, I find those things hard to argue with. They may well turn out for the best, although they seem to presume upon the endless availability of federal money for elite research institutions.
Boardroom gamesmanship has always had a place in big-time sports, and thats where you have to admire Perlman and Osborne for their open, honest and gutsy leadership. They took on Texas and its administration and frankly, gave the Longhorns a well-deserved beating.
When Beebe (read Texas puppet) pushed Nebraska for a six-year commitment to the Big 12, Nebraska fired back by asking each conference member to declare its loyalty by putting its money where its mouth is – pledging its media rights to the conference for the long term.
Texas said, Not gonna happen. The Horns, the richest school in the conference, have even more revenue to gain by launching their own TV network, and were unwilling to share the money. Of course, that is their right. But it will cost them their fiefdom, the Big 12 Conference.
So UTs noble-sounding pledge to somehow hold the Big 12 together turned out to be more bluster than substance. Well, well, imagine that.
Nebraska called the Longhorns bluff. When Texas responded with its typical My way or the highway rhetoric, the Huskers chose the highway.
Its disappointing to have to leave your own home. But theres no denying the foundation had started to undermine in 1996, at the birth of the Big 12. The most obvious sign, of course, was the demise of the annual Nebraska-Oklahoma game on Thanksgiving weekend.
But Big Ten Day was the day the Huskers finally left the old homestead. It felt like some kind of catastrophic natural disaster.
Judging from the response I heard on radio programs, and from what I read on blogs in the Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha World-Herald, it was a happy day for many Husker fans. It was not a happy day for me.
I mourn the fact that Texas was able to take over the proud family tradition that the Big Eight had become. UT is a fine university with an excellent athletic program. But it was not content to stop there.
I deplore the timing. The Longhorns eight wins in the last nine football games against Nebraska will support the inevitable Texas boast that since NU couldnt win the Big 12, its quitting. Thats not the real reason, but its not easy to refute. And frankly, it makes the stakes even higher for this, the final Big 12 football season. The Big Red finally beat the Burnt Orange in the boardroom. Now the Huskers need to beat the Horns on the field.
Leaving more than 100 years of history in the Missouri Valley, Big Six, Big Seven, Big Eight and Big 12 does not feel right. Leaving Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State to twist in the wind does not feel right. But the Jayhawks, Wildcats and Cyclones blindly supported the Longhorns on issue after issue as they arrogantly ruled the Big 12 from Austin, so in the long run, they cut their own throats. Sadly, Nebraska was unable to rescue its relatives from the flood, and had to abandon them while it headed to higher ground.
It was not a happy day. It was a day to acknowledge that big business and TV revenue have become more important than the game itself.
With Nebraskas decision, the Big 12s demise became inevitable, and college footballs move into the age of mega-conferences became inexorable. There will be glorious moments, good times, new rivalries. But the sense of permanence – however misguided it may have been – is gone.
Congress will become increasingly involved in big-time college football, and Osbornes long contention that players should be paid a stipend will get new support.
Some of the changes will be good, some will be repugnant. But they will come.
This day needed to happen. The Big 12 was built on a fault line. Membership in the Big Ten will put the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on more solid ground, academically and financially. Athletically, its a step down, but as Osborne noted, at least NU gets to compete on a more level playing field with other cold-weather schools.
I will get more excited about the Big Red in the Big Ten as the time draws closer. But this was not a day to celebrate. It was a day to bow to the inevitable.