Sunday, March 13, 2011

UNO Dropping Football/Wrestling; Going Division 1 in all other sports broke the initial word on this, and the Omaha World-Herald now has the story.  Athletic Director Trev Alberts and Chancellor John Christensen will hold a press conference Sunday afternoon to announce that UNO is planning to join the Summit League and become a full-fledged division 1 institution.

A Division 1 institution that doesn't play football or have a wrestling team.

Why? It's money. Except for the elite teams in college football, athletics is generally a money loser - including football except for BCS level programs. The roster sizes for football make it nearly impossible to make money when you have to pay for dozens of scholarships.  Even if you play a "money game" or two against a BCS opponent, it doesn't pay for itself.

Basketball might, especially if UNO basketball could win the conference tournament and get a berth in March Madness.  The rest of the programs follow along, but wrestling gets dropped because the Summit League doesn't sponsor wrestling.  So wrestling is out, even though they just won their third straight Division 2 National Championship on Sunday.

Talk about bad timing; the wrestling program gets a death sentence just hours after reaching an incredible milestone.

I'm still digesting this one myself.  On one hand, it's obvious that in this budgetary environment, government is having to become leaner and meaner, and that means that any government funding for education is going to come under increasing scrutiny. It's been clear for some time that the division 2 model is broken as schools either downsize their programs or upsize them to division 1.  UNO is taking the non-standard move to drop football, but deep down, I think it makes financial sense, even though football is such an important part of college athletics. The Legislature and Governor Dave Heineman just passed a new state budget that passed a lot of the state's budget concerns down to cities by eliminating property tax relief. This year, it's being kept flat. Who knows what happens next?  And with expenses continuing to increase, it's likely the University needs to cut something...and as much as I love college athletics, it's not the core mission of the University. So this is a plan that tries to retain as much of the mission of athletics while dealing with the budgetary reality of today.  Painful, yes...but what's the alternative?

Would a "money game" played against Nebraska make a difference? I kind of doubt it.  Say Nebraska pays UNO $500,000 to play in Lincoln.  That might cut the financial loss on football to something manageable, but would it be something that Nebraska would do? I think Nebraska has been looking to eliminate the 1-AA opponents as much as possible in the future, and even so, do they really want to play an extremely motivated group of local players who would like nothing better than knock off big brother?  (Anybody remember last season's South Dakota State game?)

One ironic aspect of this development is that some people thought that when Alberts was hired, he might try to kill hockey in favor of football because of his background. Now it turns out football is on it's way out.

Looking back five years at the days of Nancy Belck, division 1 was considered at that time, but rejected as unfeasible. I do have to wonder how football boosters like David Sokol (a former UNO player) will react to this move.

Say what you will about Trev Alberts. Alberts makes bold moves, such as his hiring of Dean Blais. This one is an even bigger decision, as it's a radical recreation of the UNO athletic department. But unlike the hiring of Blais, this one likely will be controversial.

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