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Man of action

New Nebraska AD announces some changes

By Terry Douglass
douglass@theindependent.com

photo: other
AP Photo/Nati Harnik
Nebraska athletic director Steve Pederson is seen during a news conference Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2003, in Lincoln with Herbie Husker, who has been Nebraska's lovable but frumpy mascot for the past 30 years. Pederson announced Tuesday that more opportunities will be created for fans to buy single-game football tickets, that cheerleaders will have restrictions eased on the stunts they're allowed to perform, and that a reshaped Herbie Husker will be unveiled in August, replacing the one fans have come to know for the past 30 years.

LINCOLN -- When Steve Pederson was introduced as Nebraska's new athletics director last December, he promised to listen to suggestions from all Big Red fans and would call on the Husker Nation for support.

On his 42nd day on the job in Lincoln, Pederson proved to be true to his word and a man of action. In his first official news conference as the Cornhuskers AD Tuesday, Pederson announced:

  • Season football ticket prices will be reduced.

  • The Nebraska football team's new uniforms are out.

  • Herbie Husker is in.

  • The restrictions on Nebraska's cheerleaders will be lessened.

    During his 40-minute news conference, Pederson took his best shot at fixing many of the chief complaints logged against the athletic program in its last 11 years under former AD Bill Byrne. While Byrne ruffled the feathers of many Nebraska backers with some of his policies, Pederson declared 2003 "a year for the fans."

    Next season, public season ticket holders will pay an average of $42 per ticket, compared to $43.75 last season. Student tickets will cost $21 per game, down from $21.88 in 2002.

    While the reduction may seem slight, the real news is that the price of Nebraska football tickets didn't increase. Also, season ticket donors won't be required to increase their donations.

    "We just felt like what we have to do is be fair to our ticket-holders and then we have to work within our means," Pederson said. "We're all to that point right now where we have to make good decisions budgetary.

    "At some point, we have to say, 'This is what's reasonable for our season ticket-holders to pay and that's how I arrived at it.' If I didn't think we could do this, obviously, I wouldn't have made this decision."

    The move will have a significant impact on the athletic department, which counts on generating about $2 million per home football game. Already looking at one less home game on the 2003 schedule -- down from eight to seven -- Pederson estimates that the reduction in ticket prices will cost his department around $1 million.

    Still, the North Platte native believes he made the right call.

    "This is something I think we need to do in consideration for the people who have helped us build everything that surrounds us here," Pederson said. "Our fans are the greatest in the world. They have supported us and helped us do all the things we did and this is a very significant way to say, 'thank you' to them."

    Despite what some might think, Pederson said the reduction in prices for season ticket-holders had nothing to do with Nebraska's disappointing football season. The Huskers lost three straight games to finish the year 7-7 -- the program's worst mark in four decades.

    "We're not worried about losing season ticket holders," Pederson said.

    Pederson admits he's hopeful that the show of good will might help Nebraska raise more funds in the form of donations.

    "We're very hopeful that the people who are not making a contribution right now and are sitting in the stadium will realize that this is an important time to help Nebraska," Pederson said. "We are trying to make our commitment by lowering ticket prices somewhat and we hope that they will use that opportunity to jump in as donors."

    Pederson said the athletic department also needs to grow revenue from other sources. Two of the areas he mentioned were corporate sponsorship and fund-raising.

    Pederson is hoping to make up some of the difference in lost revenue by raising the single-game ticket price to $55 for most home games and $45 for games against lower-caliber teams such as Utah State and San Jose State. The average cost of a single-game ticket will go to $52.14, up from $43.75 last season.

    Pederson also introduced a new single-game ticket waiting list, which he hopes will allow more Husker fans to see Nebraska play. The single-game tickets pool will come from season ticket-holders who don't renew or have died and tickets returned from the opponent's allotment, which usually number about 4,000 ducats.

    Starting immediately, fans can sign up for a chance to buy single-game tickets on a first-come, first-served basis. They can register on NU's official athletic Web site (www.huskers.com) or by sending a letter to the Husker athletic ticket office that includes their address and phone number.

    Pederson also announced that Nebraska's football team will ditch its new duds for a more traditional look. That will include red pants for road games as opposed to last year's unis, which featured white pants and white jerseys with a stripe down each side.

    Pederson said he spoke with Nebraska head football coach Frank Solich a number of times about the matter.

    "He and I both believe in the great traditions of Nebraska and we will be back wearing the traditional Nebraska uniforms this year," Pederson said. "We did not lose seven games last year because we changed uniforms, but one of the things that we believe is important is that we maintain focus.

    "Coach Solich talked about this and we really don't need distractions. The uniform issue became somewhat of a distraction, so he and I talked about this early on and both of us agreed that it was the right thing to do."

    Pederson said that Adidas, the company that supplies Nebraska with uniforms and other equipment, has no problems with the switch.

    In the spirit of returning to tradition, Pederson announced that Herbie Husker will be making a comeback. Created in 1974, Herbie was all but phased out during the Byrne era, allegedly because some people felt Herbie portrayed a negative image of Nebraskans to the rest of the nation.

    Herbie was basically replaced by the over-sized, inflatable mascot know as Lil' Red, which won a 1999 award national award for best mascot.

    While Herbie will return, it appears he will have a new look. In a light-hearted presentation to the media and athletic department personnel, a plan was outlined to unveil a new-look Herbie Husker for Nebraska's Aug. 30 football home opener against Oklahoma State.

    Boyd Epley, Nebraska's director of athletic performance, will "work" with Herbie on a rigorous strength and conditioning program over the next six months. The media will be provided with monthly "updates" on Herbie's progress, Pederson said in the tongue-in-cheek announcement.

    "You're going to see a lean, mean Herbie that is going to be indicative of our program," Pederson said. "We've really been a baseline of power and strength, so you're going to see a re-tooled Herbie.

    "Lil' Red has kind of captivated the world, but Herbie has been a vital part of our program for about 30 years. However -- and Herbie and I have already had this discussion -- in all honesty, Herbie is just not in playing shape."

    Also Tuesday, Pederson notified the Husker Spirit Squad that they will again be able to do the more typical cheers and lifts that Husker fans are accustomed to seeing.

    "Husker fans will enjoy seeing our squad return to some of their original routines," Pederson said. "Cheerleading has always been an important component in the game atmosphere at all of our events. We will not allow the basket tosses and pyramid stunts, because in my opinion, those moves are just too dangerous.

    "However, I look forward to seeing the cheerleaders performing the simpler, less dangerous stunts for our fans."


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