Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Nebraska's Move to the Big Ten Has A Surprising Reason

Last week as it became clear that Nebraska was being set up as the lead domino for college realignment, I started to second guess just why the Huskers wanted to leave the Big XII. Texas, if you want to believe them, seemed to be fully in favor of staying in the Big XII. Perhaps they realized that they wouldn't be able to throw their weight around in another conference, perhaps they like being the big dog. Other teams began to began to beg Nebraska to stick around. If schools really weren't leaving the Big XII first, then why was Nebraska going to make the jump.

The second guessing continued as reports came out that Fox Sports wanted to bridge the financial gap between the Big Ten and SEC deals and the Big XII's current deal. The report seemed to make sense after Fox lost out on the BCS and the ACC, meaning they were running out of properties to acquire. Shouldn't the Huskers try to salvage the Big XII and keep traditions like Nebraska-Kansas (104 straight games and counting) going? Maybe Texas would be willing to compromise on a few things to keep it intact.

But Nebraska isn't going to commit to the Big XII, even though the many of the circumstances that I thought would drive the Huskers out of the Big XII didn't seem to apply anymore.  But why?  That's when I began to learn about the difference maker. It's not the TV money or exposure, though it's nice. It's not the bowl lineup, which is full of desirable bowl locations.  (Tampa and Orlando on New Years, for example, plus the Rose Bowel if you like to tailgate.)

On Monday, KOZN radio's Kevin Kugler suggested on-the-air that the academic programs could really get a boost by joining the Big Ten. Yesterday, KLIN radio's Jack Mitchell tweeted a link to the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, the academic side of the Big Ten.  Then today, the World-Herald put it all together about what the CIC does for Big Ten schools.  It's a partnership that receives 12% of the research grants from the federal government.  The schools collaborate on classes and research projects. When something becomes a successful venture, the schools receive royalties from these findings.  And if you think football brings in big money, just check out what Big Ten schools take in.  Wisconsin, for example, $474 million in federal research grants in 2008 on top of $83 million earned on past research.

To put it in perspective...Nebraska's athletic department budget was $75 million in 2008-09.

Penn State, the last school to join the Big Ten, made noticeable jumps in the national rankings. They now are 15th in the nation in terms of academic quality as well as in federal research grants (about triple what Nebraska brings in currently.)

Nebraska is in the middle of converting the old State Fairgrounds east of the Devaney Center into the Nebraska Innovation Campus to push research into a new stratosphere.  The goal is to provide facilities to attract researchers and grant money to Lincoln, and thus enhance not only the University, but the city and state as well. When you combine what is happening with the Innovation Campus with the potential connections and cooperation available from the CIC, suddenly leaving the Big XII for the Big Ten takes on a whole new perspective.

People will say that Nebraska is leaving the Big XII for money, and it's hard to argue that point. It's just that the money involved isn't the money they are referring to.  Tom Osborne talked last night about this decision affecting the University for "the next 75 to 100 years" on his radio interview, and frankly, he wasn't talking about athletics primarily.  This is a big deal for the University of Nebraska as a whole.  Sure fans will be pleased with the end of pay-per-view football telecasts, replaced with HD telecasts on the Big Ten Network. Sure fans will like having multiple opportunities to play in a New Years Day bowl game.  Road trips to Manhattan and Stillwater get replaced by trips to Chicago, Minneapolis, and Madison.  (Note to Trev Alberts: work with the WCHA and Lincoln, and try to coordinate UNO hockey's road trips to Minnesota and Wisconsin with Husker football games for a three-game weekend.)  The distances between Big XII and Big Ten locations aren't that much longer in reality.  Iowa City is an hour further than Ames; Minneapolis is a couple of hours further than Lawrence.  Madison, Chicago, and Champaign are all easy day-drives as well.  And for those recruitniks, Jon Johnston of CornNation has the proof that membership in the Big XII didn't really have any effect on recruiting in Texas in the first place.  This is a move that doesn't have much of a downside and some upside to the athletic department.

But those benefits pale next to the benefits to the University as a whole.  That's why Nebraska is leaving the Big XII. Unlike the athletic money, the academic benefits will take time and effort to develop, but the potential to far exceed athletic benefits is very much real.  That's why Nebraska is breaking with tradition.  That's why Nebraska is potentially disrupting much of college football.  It's unfortunate that schools like Iowa State and Kansas may be harmed if Texas carries through with their threat to destroy the Big XII.  I would hope that reasonable minds could try to salvage the Big XII and add a TCU, Louisville, BYU, or Utah to keep the conference viable.


Anonymous said...

Great post Mike. Sadly, I doubt many will believe you, but I will. The numbers you gave are astounding, and it's obvious this move (along with Research Park) gives NU a chance to eventually become one of the premier academic universities in the Midwest.


Truth said...

Mike - Wow! Welcome to the party. I love the idea that Nebraska is suddenly too good for Big 12 academics. If you had not noticed, MU, KU, KSU, UT OSU, Ok St. all are way ahead of NU in terms of innovation and federal dollars. Federal research dollars are THE life blood of Universities and have been since the dawn of time - only accelerated with formation of the Bayh-Dole Act.

Just so I'm clear, an unbuilt innovation park and too-be-built basketball arena suddenly makes you a better innovation campus and basketball school?

Huskers....don't let Dr. Tom know any of this...he thinks all about TV money...shhh

Husker Mike said...

No Nebraska is not "too good" for Big XII athletics. You are confusing where Nebraska is currently at (which is pretty much what you state) and where Nebraska wants to be. All those things to mention are part of Nebraska's plan to move Nebraska forward.

As for Dr. don't know one lick about Osborne, and obviously don't want to either. That's fine...but your ignorance is showing.

Husker Mike said...

Oops. Meant to write that Nebraska is not "too good" for Big XII academics.