The original story broke at the worst possible time: as the wrestling team was celebrating their third straight national championship. I don't believe that was intentional; the timing of the announcement was forced by the Omaha World-Herald. Not that there is ever a good time to announce this sort of thing... but some times are worse than others. And it's a sad story, to be sure. The wrestlers did nothing wrong. They got caught up in a numbers game outside of their control. It's unfortunate, but whether we like it or not, budgets are under pressure on college campuses across the nation. Look at Nebraska-Lincoln, where chancellor Harvey Perlman is cutting programs and raising tuition. At UNO, the athletic department receives nearly $6 million a year in funds from the school itself; money that probably should be spent on academic programs, some could argue.
ESPN's online version of the story tries to make the case that Alberts is using questionable accounting, but the expert in question, economist Andy Schwarz, is the one with the questionable accounting:
Counting the tuition and fees that athletes pay to the school is certainly revenue to the school, but not the athletic department. If you include that revenue, then you absolutely have to include the expenses the school incurs while educating these athletes...a figure that's nowhere to be seen in the ESPN report. I don't have that number either, but considering that the University of Nebraska is a state-sponsored school and receives support from state government, that's likely pretty close to (and more likely higher) than the tuition revenue athletes pay. If that's the "smoking gun" that UNO wrestling and football supporters have been counting on, well, that backfired.
"UNO had 36 football scholarships divided among 77 of the 121 football players from this past season, and players such as Davis were paying the more expensive out-of-state tuition. The university counts the cost of athletic scholarships as an expense against the football department, but it doesn't count the tuition that student-athletes pay as revenue. If it did, Schwarz said the football program could count at least an additional $700,000 in revenue, and for wrestling it would be at least $200,000."
The story also rehashed the David Sokol allegation that UNO's football program was sacrificed so that it was no longer a threat to the Husker football program. Of course, ESPN's report didn't attribute that statement, knowing that since making that statement, Sokol has become part of a bigger controversy after resigning from Berkshire Hathaway due to ethical concerns with his stock purchases of a company Warren Buffett was purchasing. Frankly, it's a silly argument.
Could UNO football become a "powerhouse", as Van Deeb argued? Hardly, I believe. UNO football averaged around 3800 fans a game last season. For comparison, UNO drew nearly as many fans for two hockey games against Wisconsin as the football team drew all season. Some fans point to the success of the Omaha Nighthawks, but fail to realize the difference between professional football (granted, not NFL, but with players that were stars in college) and division 1-AA football (teams like Northern Iowa and Tennessee-Chattanooga). Oh, and the Nighthawks wisely scheduled their games away from Husker games, playing on two Friday nights, a Thursday night, and a Saturday when the Huskers had a bye-week. UNO can't do that, and thanks to the way television contracts manipulate kickoff times, it's nearly impossible to schedule around Nebraska football.
In the past, we've come to expect sloppy reporting from ESPN when it came to coverage of Nebraska football, so I wasn't surprised to find a bunch of errors ("hockey attendance has dropped in recent years") in the details. But I tried to keep an open mind that ESPN might find something, anything, to call UNO's decision into question.
But they didn't. In the end, the only impact of the story was the pain the wrestlers faced in seeing their program end moments after reaching the pinnacle of success.