As a member of the Big Ten since 1987, with two degrees from the Univeristy of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I watched the unfolding of the Nebraska deliberations about joining the Big Ten with great interest. My conclusion is that this is a win for the Big Ten and a dream-come-true for the University of Nebraska. Here’s why:
Academics: According to the U.S. News and World Report’s ranking of Public Universities, Nebraska has been steadily climbing to number 43. Every one of the Big Ten schools is ranked above 32. In academia, people consider you by the company you keep. Nebraska moves to a conference with MUCH higher academic prestige, scholarship, grants, endowments, entrance scores and nearly every measurable factor. Associationwith this company will do nothing but increase the percieved and real value of a Nebraska education. It will attract better students, better professors, more research grant and a stronger environment. I’d predict that over the next ten years Nebraska will pull up therankings into the high 20s or low 30s. Although they may never compete with a Michigan (4) or Illiniois (9), the ranking will certainly flourish with the new company. As a parent, I am personally more optimistic about the possibility of a Nebraska education for my kids in the coming years.
Football: Nebraska will fit very well with the Big Ten ethos and style. Nebraska can hold its own in any conference, Big Ten included. Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan (once they recover from the current slump) will be perennial highlight games. One difference is the ‘cream puff’ factor. Although some teams are better than others, in the Big Ten every team can beat you. Illinois is one of the teams not considered a national contender normally (as well as Minnesota, Indiana, Purdue, Northwestern…), But any one of those teams is a threat – every year. Illinois, for example, went to the Rose Bowl two years ago and beat Ohio State…in the horseshoe, when the Buckeyes were rated number 1 in the nation. In the Big 12, there are always teams that are basically a ‘free pass’ (Iowa State, Kansas State, Kansas, and often Missouri). In fact, there are NO perennial powerhouses in the Big 12 North except Nebraska. You could chalk up 3 wins in the Big 12 based on the ‘cream puff’ factor. Despite this, I predict Nebraska will place in the top three teams it’s first year and stay in that arena for the next decade or so.
The Rose Bowl: The Huskers will have a shot to play on New Year’s Day in ‘the granddaddy of them all’. The Rose Bowl in Pasadena is the oldest and richest tradition in college football bowls. Except for the very odd BCS championship year, only Big 10 and Pac 10 teams play there. Every other bowl is just a copycat of the original.
Other Key Sports: Women’s Volleyball will be in a much more difficult conference, picking up a great rivalry with Penn State, who is always in national contention with Nebraska. Outside of the Pac-10, you could not ask for a better match up for Nebraska’s ‘other’ consistently great team. Men’s Hoops – Look out Huskers, you are in for a slicing and dicing. Women’s Hoops – We’ll soon find out if this year was the beginning of a dynasty for the Cornhuskers or a really fun fluke.
Stability – The Big 12 is destined to be totally reshaped or die. The Big 10 is 114 years old and will be around another 114 years. It will likely still be the most academically prestigious public conference in America. Nebraska is wise to get in now and ride the gravy train.
Wins for the Big 10 – Nebraska carries with it national interest in the football arena, an absolutely lunatic fan base and a great tradition. This will strenghten Big 10 revenues and positioning in the TV arenas. But the biggest win is national championships. Nebraska carries 4 and a half championships (split with Michigan in 1997) over the past forty years, while the other teams in the Big Ten have a combined One and a half during the same time period.
Wins for Husker fans – No more pay-per-view games! A better university. A richer football team. A stronger tradition. Increased stability. And road trips to Champaign every other year. Life doesn’t get any better than this!