Lincoln, Neb. Nebraska has officially tied the knot with the Big Ten and, unlike its marriage of convenience with the Big 12 Conference, both parties enter this one believing they’re a perfect match.
Nebraska, which became an active Big Ten member Friday, gets the stability of a 105-year-old conference that includes some of the biggest names in college athletics and an association with some of the most prestigious public institutions in the land.
The Big Ten gets a valuable national brand in the Cornhuskers, one that gives the conference leverage in future television rights negotiations.
Nebraska loses its games against schools with which it has had century-old relationships, such as Kansas and Missouri, and gains a border war with Iowa and high-powered matchups with Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin, among others.
Commissioner Jim Delany said the Huskers are a natural fit.
“They believe in broad-based programs, we believe in broad-based programs,” he said. “They’ve had success in a lot of different programs, as we have. They believe and value the notion of sportsmanship at a very high level, which we believe in and value. There is a lot of connectivity.”
For all that, this was purely a football-driven move. Five national championships and a coast-to-coast fan following made Nebraska extremely attractive to Delany and the many millions watching on ABC/ESPN and the Big Ten Network.
“I would assume that if we didn’t have a good football tradition that we probably wouldn’t have been invited,” Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne said.
The Huskers are in the Legends Division with Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Northwestern. They’ll find out just how good they are in their inaugural season, starting with nationally televised cross-division night games at Wisconsin on Oct. 1 and against Ohio State in Lincoln the following week.
The Huskers host Michigan State and Northwestern before back-to-back road games against Penn State and Michigan, and Iowa will visit Lincoln the day after Thanksgiving. They miss out on playing two of the three teams with losing records last season.
If the Huskers can win 10 games for the third season in a row, it would be a marvelous accomplishment, Osborne said.
“It’s one of the tougher schedules we’ve had in a long time,” he said.
Game days at Nebraska are like those at other Big Ten venues, with the large crowds, tailgating and other traditions. Delany said Nebraska fans will feel comfortable at places such as Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin.
“I think they’ll feel they came home in some ways,” Delany said.
Nebraska never felt at home in the Big 12. Osborne has said as much.
The perception in Nebraska was that Texas held too much political control from Day 1.
The purpose of the Big Eight-Southwest Conference merger, announced in 1994 and effective in 1996, was to cash in on increasing television rights fees.
The Big Eight schools were in sparsely populated states that had a combined 7 percent of the nation’s TV sets. The four Texas schools that joined the Big 12 were in a state with another 7 percent of the nation’s TVs, and they were in a conference on the verge of collapse because of cheating scandals.
Nebraska took it as a sign of things to come when Steve Hatchell, the SWC commissioner, was named the first commissioner of the Big 12 and Dallas was picked over Kansas City as league headquarters.
Nebraska wanted to continue accepting an unlimited number of partial academic qualifiers, as allowed by Big Eight rules, but that policy wasn’t carried over to the Big 12 largely because of Texas’ opposition.
More recently, Osborne was irked by the vote to play the Big 12 championship game for what would have been five straight years at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Osborne preferred a north-south rotation. The point is moot now. The NCAA doesn’t allow conference championship games in leagues with less than 12 members.
The financials were another issue. In the Big 12, a school generates greater revenue for itself with more TV appearances in football and men’s basketball, and for advancing further in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
In the Big Ten, revenue from TV contracts, bowls and NCAA men’s basketball tournament shares are divided evenly.
Nebraska won’t receive a full share of Big Ten revenue immediately. Chancellor Harvey Perlman and Delany declined to say in what year Nebraska would receive a full revenue share, which amounted to about $20 million per Big Ten school last year.
Perlman said, however, that Delany has assured him that Nebraska would receive no less than the estimated $10 million it would have gotten if it had remained in the Big 12 this year.
Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten was the result of whirlwind conference realignment last June.
The Pacific-10 made an unsuccessful play for six Big 12 schools, including Texas. Had more than just Colorado left to join what is becoming the Pac 12, the Big 12 would have struggled to survive.
Nebraska actually had been waiting for a Big Ten invitation for decades.
Shortly after Penn State became the Big Ten’s 11th member in 1990, then-Nebraska athletic director Bob Devaney spoke with Delany about the possibility of the league taking in the Cornhuskers to make it an even 12.
Devaney, the man who built the Huskers into football national champions in 1970-71, grew up in Michigan and was from the coaching tree of Michigan State icon Duffy Daugherty. He admired the Big Ten and wanted to be part of it.
Bill Byrne, athletic director from 1992-2002, also inquired about Big Ten membership.
Joining the Big Ten, Perlman said, “has been an aspiration for many people around the university for as long as I’ve been here, which goes back to the 1960s.”
“Everybody has acknowledged that the Big Ten had a reputation that would assist the University of Nebraska, if for no other reason than location and we’re a comparable institution,” Perlman said. “Many people look at getting into the Big Ten as a signal that we’ve arrived as a major research university. Many of us think that’s true.”