As Nebraska football ticket prices swelled like a freshman lineman eating his first meal at the training table, Husker fans like Norm Sell began to consider the unthinkable.
"In the past two or three years, I've talked to my boys and asked, `Do we want these anymore?'" said Sell, who has has had four tickets in the North Stadium for over 25 years. "We've always held on to them. Like everyone, we enjoy it."
It's folks like Sell who Steve Pederson had in mind in declaring 2003 "A Year for the Fans" at Nebraska.
In his first public move since becoming NU's athletic director last month, Pederson said Tuesday that prices for season football tickets will be cut by an average of $1.75 per game.
He also said the athletic departmentwould roll back the clock in other areas, most notably returning to red pants in its football uniform for road games.
Cheerleaders will again be allowed to perform some of the less-risky stunts outlawed when the squad was grounded last spring.
Even Herbie Husker, neglected for much of Bill Byrne's tenure, is in store for a return to prominence, Pederson said. But not until the overall-wearing, potbellied mascot undergoes a publicized makeover worthy of the artists and designers on Oprah.
The changes aren't so much a reaction to suggestions from any glad-handing fans or complaints from callers to his weekly radio show as they are Pederson's own prioritiesas a lifelong Husker fan.
"It's just generally a lot of my feeling about how we ought to approach things,"he said. "We decided to clean them all up at once."
Cheerleader Crystal Zabka found out about the changes in a Tuesday meeting. Squad members still won't be doing handsprings or building human pyramids, but two-person stunts will be allowed.
"I'm really excited about it," Zabka said. "The university did what it could."
Much like Herbie -- who Pederson ordered into a mock off-season strength and conditioning program -- NU's athletic department is in line for some belt-tightening.
Pederson's desire to reduce the price of season tickets will take approximately $1 million from a 2003-04 budget already depressed by having one fewer home football game than a year ago.
Season tickets for all seven NUgames next season will cost $294, or $42 per game. Season tickets in 2002 averaged an all-time high of $43.75 per game.
Season-ticket prices had climbed for five straight years and had more than doubled since 1993. Ticket manager John Anderson said the price of football tickets at Nebraska ranks among the highest in the country each year.
"There's a point at which you can only ask your fans to do so much," Pederson said. "You have to decide what's a reasonable number, and then you have to say, `That's it.' Now we've got to hold the line on the spending to make sure we can do this within our means."
Ticket holders were notified about the changes announced Tuesday in a three-page letter mailed this week.
Asked Tuesday in what areas Nebraska could cut back to reduce this year's $48.5 million budget, Pederson declined to give specifics. He again repeated that no sports at NUare in danger of being cut.
On the revenue side, expect increases from corporate sponsorships and fund-raising, he said. In reducing season-ticket prices, Pederson challenged ticket holders not currently donating to the athletic department to step forward with an annual commitment.
For now, there are no changes in donations tied to seats at Memorial Stadium.
Pederson said he hopes to bring new fans into football games by freeing up 500 or more tickets a game for sale on an individual basis. Fans interested in being placed on a waiting list can sign up at www.huskers.com.
Those single-game tickets won't be cheap -- $45 for the Utah State and San Jose State games and $55 for all others. As a comparison, the highest single-game ticket at Kansas State or Texas last season was $45. Oklahoma charged $60 for its home game with Alabama.
Though Nebraska has sold out every home game since 1962, "this will give anybody a realistic chance to come to Memorial Stadium,"Pederson said.
Reach Todd Henrichs at 473-7439 or email@example.com.