June 14, 2010

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Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne speaks after the Big Ten accepted NU's application. The Huskers will begin competing in the Big Ten starting in the 2011-12 academic year.


Huskers' Big Ten move official

Photo Showcase: Friday's NU press conference

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Video: Tom Osborne speaks at Friday's press conference:

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LINCOLN — It was a whirlwind courtship.

After several weeks of sidelong glances, subtle signals and not-quite-asking, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Big Ten Conference accepted a mutual proposal Friday.

By day's end, UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman was wearing a Big Ten pin on his lapel, while Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany was sporting a Big Red "N'' on his jacket.

Though many key details of the new relationship have yet to be resolved, UNL will officially join the Big Ten on July 1, 2011.

Sports competition won't happen until after that date, although academic collaboration between Nebraska and other Big Ten universities may happen sooner.

In a press conference Friday announcing the agreement, Delany hinted that the conference still may be flirting with some other prospective members. He wouldn't name names.

"One of our goals is not to embarrass ourselves and not to embarrass other universities," he said. "Not every institution is interested in the Big Ten, and the Big Ten is not interesed in every institution."

It was clear that UNL had reached some sort of understanding with the Big Ten before Perlman and Athletic Director Tom Osborne asked the Board of Regents for their blessing on Friday.

Delany was literally waiting in the wings. Only two hours after the regents voted unanimously in favor of the move, Delany appeared at a campus press conference to announce that the Big Ten had unanimously voted to approve UNL's application. The Big Ten is based in Park Ridge, Ill.

In fact, asking the regents' approval was essentially a nicety. Their permission was not required and the deal had already been reached.

Nonetheless, the regents' meeting room was crowded with reporters from across the country, along with other spectators hoping to witness what Perlman said was an event that could transform UNL.

"This is a big event in the history of Husker athletics," said Ryan McCormick of Omaha, a 23-year-old engineering graduate student. "I figured I was close enough to be a part of it."

In his remarks, Perlman insisted that Nebraska should not be blamed for potentially breaking up the Big 12.

"Nebraska did not start this discussion," he said. "One school leaving a conference does not destroy a conference. Every school in a conference, every president of a university, has a fiduciary obligation to defend and preserve the best interests of their institutions."

Both Osborne and Perlman stressed that the decision was not based on hard feelings toward their Big 12 counterparts. They remain friends with the coaches and administrators at those universities.

But next season might be uncomfortable.

"Once you make the change, you'd like to do it tomorrow," said Osborne. "It may not be a real easy year for us on the athletic field."

Both Osborne and Perlman said they were attracted to the Big Ten because it offered a stable long-term relationship.

"In athletics, stability is something that whenever you see it, you want to grab onto it," said Osborne.

It appears the courtship between Nebraska and the Big Ten actually began with a chance meeting in Lincoln between Osborne and Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel.

Tressel was in town to speak at a banquet and Osborne gave him a courtesy tour of Nebraska's facilities.

Tressel told Osborne that he had been hearing talk of Big Ten expansion and "had heard Nebraska's name come up,'' Osborne said.

Osborne said he would eventually have a similar conversation with Barry Alvarez, the former Nebraska football player who is now athletic director at Wisconsin. Alvarez also said Nebraska's name was coming up.

It was based on the Tressel conversation that Osborne e-mailed Perlman the next day, suggesting they talk soon about "the expansion landscape.''

About three or four weeks ago, Perlman said, he and Osborne first approached the Big Ten. By then, reports were circulating that Colorado and Missouri were considering leaving the Big 12. Colorado this week said it would move to the Pac-10.

"We thought Nebraska was in a very vulnerable situation," Perlman said. "By geography, we sit here with not a lot of options, nor a lot of schools that could be added to the conference to bring it back to 12, that are consistent with our competitive position."

Perlman said he and Osborne met with Big Ten officials in "a remote location," which he declined to name. They described what Nebraska had to offer in terms of its athletic program, history, values and traditions, as well as its academic standing.

"Both he and I walked away from that meeting thinking those were attributes the Big Ten was looking for," said Perlman. "But that's all we came away with."

The situation intensified at the Big 12 meetings in Kansas City, Mo., the first week of June, Perlman said.

During the meetings, it was confirmed that six Big 12 schools had been approached to join the Pac-10. Perlman said officials with those schools said that if Nebraska stayed with the Big 12, they would stay with the league, too. They issued an ultimatum for all conference members to affirm their commitment to the Big 12, or they would take up the Pac-10 offer.

Perlman told them he needed to consult with NU President J.B. Milliken and the Board of Regents.

He also was asked if UNL would stay with the Big 12 if both Colorado and Missouri left. Perlman said they made no promises.

Nebraska was given a deadline to make an "unequivocal, long-term commitment to the Big 12,'' he said.

Perlman said he again contacted Big Ten officials the evening of June 4, after his return from the Big 12 meetings. He told them he was in a difficult position and asked them to consider Nebraska as a candidate for the Big Ten.

On June 6 — last Sunday — the Big Ten's chancellors and presidents held their first conference call to discuss Nebraska's potential bid. The discussion was favorable, which enabled Delany to then inform Perlman that the bid would be given full consideration.

Two days ago, Perlman said, Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe left him a message asking that Nebraska commit to the league "at least until 2016."

"Neither Tom nor I thought that was a very long-term commitment," Perlman said.

Big Ten officials indicated they would give "careful consideration" to an application submitted by Nebraska. An application letter was submitted to the Big Ten on Friday afternoon, with Big Ten leaders making the favorable vote via conference call shortly afterwards.

The regents enthusiastically endorsed the deal, saying that it could help move Nebraska to a new level of athletic and academic success.

Osborne said the opportunities for collaborative research with Big Ten institutions could provide a boon to Nebraska taxpayers by creating spinoff jobs and businesses.

Regent Kent Schroeder of Kearney said he was sold after Perlman and Osborne told him details of the arrangement during a conference call with the board's executive committee Thursday.

"The key for me was the academic side," Schroeder said. "The ounce of gold is the academic side."

Schroeder said it's unclear whether the change will require more state funding for Nebraska to keep up with its new peers.

He noted that Nebraska already compares itself against several Big Ten members, including Purdue and the University of Illinois, on indicators like faculty salary levels.

Gov. Dave Heineman said he welcomed the change, even if it might someday require increased state support.

"This is important and significant and it's a very positive step forward athletically and academically," he said.

World-Herald staff writer Henry J. Cordes contributed to this report.

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Video: Harvey Perlman speaks at Friday's press conference:

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