Wednesday, May 31, 2017

World-Herald Finds UNO's Reasons for Division 1 and Baxter Arena Unfulfilled

The Omaha World-Herald unleashed a fury of "Freedom of Information Act" requests towards UNO recently and found that the decisions to move to division 1 for all sports and build Baxter Arena haven't solved UNO's athletic financial problems.

In fact, you could aruge that problems may have gotten worse, not better.  (Especially the ill-thought through decision to build yet another arena in the Omaha area.)  But that's playing the blame-game; it doesn't solve UNO's issues.  You can't undo those decisions, especially the arena. Barring some sort of massive Papio Creek flood, UNO is stuck with paying for this arena.  So what is UNO doing?  Well, budgets are being scrutinized even further than ever. And in that light, it's pretty clear what the driving factor in the decision to choose Mike Gabinet over more qualified candidates was. Especially when you consider that eight weeks later, Gabinet still has only been able to hire one assistant coach.

The University system is being forced to pump more resources into UNO athletics; some of that is going to come from student fees, but in an increasingly tight budget situation in this state, the resources just aren't there to sustain it. I suspect that a dictum has been made to the Huskers athletic department to help out as much as possible.  NU volleyball will be playing in a tournament at Baxter Arena this September, and I frankly would be shocked if NU doesn't play UNO in men's basketball this upcoming winter.  Those should be easy moves for the folks in Lincoln; it's hard to justify spending money to fly UMBC halfway across the country when UNO will eagerly jump on a bus at any time.  The only question to me is whether the game shows up during winter break or on the weekend after the Big Ten tournament.

And yes, playing a non-conference game after the Big Ten tournament makes a lot of sense.  With the Big Ten moving their tournament up a week to play in Madison Square Garden, Big Ten teams could conceivably be idle for two weeks before playing in the NCAA or NIT tournaments.  You need a game to stay focused that week, and the Summit League tournament ends two days after the Big Ten's.

A lot of people are going to point to the move to Division 1 as a failure for UNO; I still believe that this move was the right one for UNO to make. Make no bones about it, it was a painful decision, but it was the right one.  Football had become a perennial money loser, with almost no hope of a turnaround in a market that's focused completely on Lincoln.  20 years ago, UNO found a niche playing in the evenings after NU played in the afternoons, but that's past history.  1-AA would only increase the budget damage now that Power Five schools aren't able to throw money at 1-AA opponents.

That means basketball is now UNO's best opportunity to fill the budget void, and getting regular paydays from schools like Nebraska will be a key for UNO athletic viability moving forward.  Can hockey remain the flagship sport for UNO?  The gamble to hire Gabinet is certainly risky in that light.  Underrated is the potential of soccer; I suspect soccer is capable of drawing decent sized crowds to Caniglia Field in the future. It's certainly a more viable sport for UNO than football was.

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