I believe in Trev Alberts.
I'm not saying that Trev has handled everything perfectly. But from my perspective, Trev Alberts is taking way too much criticism and frankly, isn't getting nearly enough credit for what he has done. No doubt in my mind that fans of the wrestling and football programs at UNO should be disappointed. Anger can be a natural result of that, especially when people don't find an appropriate path to channel that emotion that results from the disappointment. For those backers, I hope that their anger was cathartic, because I've listend to the criticism, and don't find much substance to back much of it up.
Did Alberts kill these programs on an order from Tom Osborne? Frankly, that hypothesis is so ridiculous, it shouldn't need a response. Sure, some players reject walking on at UNL in favor of accepting a scholarship offer at UNO, but killing the UNO program isn't going to change that all that much. If someone wants to walk-on for the Huskers, nothing stops them. Those players that were good enough to earn D-2 scholarships will still be good enough to earn D-2 scholarships. They'll just head to UNK or Northwest Missouri State instead.
The consensus of what I've read and listened to in recent weeks confirms my original thoughts. Trev Alberts didn't start this process; Alberts was brought in down the line to look at UNO's athletic programs, and Alberts was only part of the group. The marching orders that Trev had were to make the athletic department sustainable without future increases in university support. That was the death sentence for UNO football right there because all the evidence pointed to football being an increasing drain on athletic department resources, and thus the entire UNO campus.
Should football boosters have had a chance to rectify the situation? An argument could have been made there, but the warning signs were out there for years. Remember the Nancy Belck/Jim Buck saga five years ago? Quibble with the numbers all you want, but football was a huge drain on the athletic department, and division 1-AA would have only increased that. Money games included.
Wrestlers have every right to be disappointed, but the fact is that wrestling isn't part of the Summit League. The need to mesh UNO's athletic department with the offerings of the Summit League put wrestling at serious risk, and frankly financially unmanageable. One unanswered question is to determine the issue of Title IX and gender equity. Could UNO add men's golf and soccer, yet still keep wrestling? What's the penalty for non-compliance? Frankly, the decision to add men's golf and soccer was pretty much a given; I don't see how UNO could join a new league and only compete in one or two sports.
A few individuals have tried to point towards the hockey program as the problem, though I frankly don't understand why. At it's financial worst, hockey was a slight drain on the program. I think that's all changed with Dean Blais. Attendance is up, and success on the ice is up. That's something that I think builds on itself over time. I expect hockey to be a net positive in revenue, and potentially a cash cow in future years. These changes may turn off a few donors, especially the ones who primarily supported football and wrestling. That's to be expected. I don't blame them for being disappointed, and it's their right to choose how to donate. That being said, I think a bigger pool of donors was not only in support of this change, but was also part of the group that really led this effort.
One theme that I've heard is that athletics shouldn't be about making money. I'll agree with that to a point. Only a few BCS schools make money on football, and that's also very much true. Athletics are something that can unite a campus and make it better. That's an intangible that's difficult to measure. UNO isn't expecting to make money on sports, however, as an entire athletic department. UNO wants hockey and eventually men's basketball to be revenue positive, but UNO isn't planning on the athletic department generating money for the school. That's something very few schools can accomplish: UNL is one of the exceptions that does it.
While the idea that these decisions shouldn't be driven by finances is noble, it's not reality. Not in this day and age where government budgets are being scrutinized on a constant basis. The University of Nebraska system avoided a cut this year in funding from the state, but that doesn't even begin to address rising costs elsewhere in the system. Chancellor John Christensen isn't willing to keep adding funding to athletics in light of the needs elsewhere in the campus.
The football players who pointed out that UNO receives less support from state government on a per-student basis than Nebraska-Kearney deserve credit for identifying this issue. That's a campus-wide problem that should be addressed...but that doesn't mean that the football program should be retained either. A fairer distribution of funds between campuses might mean more funds could be available to athletics, but the vast majority of it should go towards academic programs.
Two years ago, many people had questions about Trev Alberts when he was hired. Two months later, he erased a lot of those by hiring two-time national champion coach Dean Blais to lead UNO hockey. Yesterday, UNO lost to Michigan in overtime, and Blais expressed the disappointment like this:
Yes, I'm a hockey fan, but I'm also an alumnus of the University of Nebraska at Omaha. I believe in what Trev Alberts is doing. He's led the charge to take hockey to the next level; a level where talk about playing for a national championship can't be dismissed as crazy talk. I believe that he's leading the charge to take what he can to that next level. Sadly, that doesn't include football and wrestling. But if the choice is between sparing football and wrestling for a few more years versus elevating the rest of the sports like he did UNO hockey, the choice is clear in my mind.
“But just the circumstance in overtime — the potential national championship, gone.”
I believe in Trev Alberts.