As I’m sure you have all read by now, an official announcement should come tomorrow that Nebraska will be joining the Big Ten, making them the second Big 12 domino to fall (after Colorado, who announced today they will move to the Pac-10) in this summer’s expansion madness. In January, I posted an extensive look into how Pitt would fit into the Big Ten after (bogus) rumors had them joining the conference — today, with a much better reason, I’ll do the same look into Nebraska, looking not only at football but also basketball, their overall athletic department, the strength of their academics, and potential conference alignment. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the Cornhuskers:
Football: Obviously, Nebraska’s biggest draw as a new member of the Big Ten is their football team, which is one of the most storied programs in college football and has a recent history of fielding strong teams.
Nebraska lays claim to 46 conference titles and five national championships (one of which Michigan fans are intimately familiar with — the split national title in 1997), and their back-to-back national titles in 1994-95 still remain the only consecutive consensus national titles since Oklahoma in 1956-57. Three Cornhuskers — Johnny Rogers, Mike Rozier, and Eric Crouch — have won the Heisman Trophy, and 52 consensus All-Americans have suited up for the Big Red. Their current AD and former coach, Tom Osborne, never won less than nine games during his 25 years at the helm, compiling a record of 255-49-3 from 1983-1997 in what was certainly the golden age of Nebraska football.
While the last decade-plus hasn’t been as kind to the Cornhuskers (especially the Bill Callahan era, from 2004-2007, in which they went 27-22 while changing from their signature option attack to a pro-style offense), they are still a very solid program, finishing 10-4 last season and earning the #14 ranking in the final AP poll in Bo Pelini’s second season as head coach.
As for facilities, Nebraska plays their home games in Memorial Stadium (known as the “Sea of Red” on game days), which has stood since 1923 and holds a capacity of 81,067. Although the stadium itself is old, Nebraska has renovated Memorial Stadium several times since it was first built, with the most recent renovation coming in 2006, when over 7,000 seats, new sky boxes, new video boards, and a new training facility (named after Osborne and his wife, Nancy) were installed.
Basketball: I’ll put it this way: Nebraska is definitely a football school. As you can see by the lack of any sort of worthwhile information on the Nebraska men’s basketball Wikipedia page, there aren’t a lot of noteworthy accomplishments to speak of when it comes to the program.
The Cornhuskers have made six NCAA tournament appearances in their history, with four of those coming in consecutive years, from 1991-1994, when they were led by noted gunner (and career NBA backup) Eric Piatkowski, and they last made the Big Dance in 1998. The hold the dubious distinction of being one of just three BCS schools to have never won a game in the NCAA tournament, along with Northwestern and South Florida. They have, however, become a staple of the NIT, making that tournament 16 times, including four times in the last seven seasons, and winning the NIT title in 1996. NU hasn’t won a regular-season conference title since sharing the Big Eight crown with Kansas and Kansas State in 1950, and haven’t won an outright conference title since 1916.
The Huskers hired UTEP coach Doc Sadler before the 2006-07 season, and managed to break .500 in his first three seasons — which included two NIT appearances — before finishing at the bottom of the Big 12 last season with a 2-14 conference record (15-18 overall). So yeah, don’t expect this team to be much more than cannon-fodder for a strong Big Ten basketball conference.
The women’s basketball team, despite not becoming a varsity sport until 1975 (the men’s program has been around since 1896), has achieved far greater success than their male counterparts. Cue Wikipedia:
Women’s basketball started as a club sport in 1970 and five years later it became a varsity sport when scholarships were offered. George Nicodemus was the first head coach and had a 22-9 record in his first season, taking the Huskers to the AIAW where they lost in the second round of the tournament. Five different head coaches would be hired after Nicodemus left the program in 1971 until 1986 when Angela Beck took a stable head coach position. Beck led the Huskers to their first NCAA bid after winning the Big 8 championship in 1988. She led the Huskers back to the NCAA in 93 and 96. She left the program in 1996 to pursue other opportunities and was replaced by Paul Sanderford. Sanderford led the Huskers to a NCAA sub-regional in 1998 and 1999 and received a third consecutive NCAA bid in 2000. Connie Yori became the head coach in 2002 and has led the Huskers to WNIT in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009 and NCAA in 2007, 2008, and 2010.
Hooray for having at least one viable basketball program, I guess.
Nebraska plays their home games in the Bob Devaney Sports Center, which holds a capacity of 13,595 and also contains their swimming and diving, indoor track, and gymnastics facilities. Last year, the men’s basketball team finished 45th in the NCAA with an average attendance of 9,964. Again, this is a football school.
Olympic/Other Sports: Nebraska does have a strong overall athletic department. Last year they finished 31st in the Director’s Cup standings, which would have been good for seventh in the Big Ten. They boast a couple very strong programs in their women’s volleyball team, which has won three national titles (most recent: 2006) and made the NCAA final four 11 times, and their men’s gymnastics team, which has captured eight national team titles and 41 NCAA event titles. Nebraska’s baseball team has also been strong in the last decade, as they have made three College World Series appearances and reached the NCAA Tournament nine times in the last eleven seasons. They also have a very strong women’s bowling team, which shocked me because I didn’t know bowling was an official varsity sport — the Huskers took home the NCAA crown in three of the first six NCAA bowling tournaments (starting in 2003) and they have never been ranked lower than 17th in the country.
Academics: The University of Nebraska-Lincoln (the full name for the school, although it is often abbreviated as simply “NU”) fits every requirement the Big Ten reportedly had for admission to the conference — they’re a public research institution and a member of the AAU. They are a first-tier institution according to the U.S. News & World Report, which has them ranked as the 96th-best school in the country. Although this puts them last among Big Ten schools, this is certainly not the equivalent of taking on a Texas Tech or another school outside the first tier.
View Big Ten + Nebraska in a larger map
Adding Nebraska alone as the 12th Big Ten team created some issues when it comes to alignment. The addition of the Huskers means it makes the most geographic sense to divide the conference into East and West, but the result, when done purely on a geographic basis, isn’t as balanced as one would hope:
[table id=110 /]
That leaves three of the conference’s most prestigious football schools (as well as Michigan State and Purdue, which while being thoroughly mediocre programs still manage to be half-decent most of the time) battling it out in the East, while Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin get a far easier path to the Big Ten Championship Game (boy, is that fun to type). This alignment does, however, maintain many of the Big Ten’s traditional rivalries, so I’m not sure if there’s a better suggestion out there. I’m certainly all ears, though, and this entire discussion could become moot if the conference expands to 14 or 16 teams.
My Take: Although Nebraska doesn’t add a lot to the Big Ten Network footprint, and their basketball program isn’t up to par with the rest of the conference (save Northwestern, I guess), I still really like this addition. Lost in the discussion of mega-conferences and television revenue is the entire point of the Big Ten expanding in the first place: now we have 12 teams, giving the Big Ten that coveted conference title game in football, which will add revenue and bring more attention to the conference after the regular season is over. Bringing in a football program as prestigious as Nebraska’s is a great move for the conference, and I’m excited to see what new rivalries form with their addition. We’ll have to wait and see if Jim Delaney has any more moves up his sleeve, or if the Big Ten is happy to stand pat at 12 teams, but right now I’m just excited for the prospect of a football title game and a new, good program on the football schedule.