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UNL News Blog

Conference realignment and long-term pitches

Well, the earthquake that was supposedly going to shatter the landscape of intercollegiate athletics turned out to be merely a decently sized early-June temblor. But though it wasn’t as cataclysmic as some pundits had predicted, realignment did cause things to be altered pretty decently in the world of college sports. In sum, Colorado started the fireworks when it announced it would be leaving the Big 12 for the Pac-10. A day later, Nebraska then bolted the Big 12 for the much more stable environs of the Big Ten Conference.

Those moves prompted Texas and its four Big 12 South underlings — Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M — to weigh an invite to join Colorado in the Pac-10, but ultimately deciding to carry forward with a 10-team conference minus NU and CU. Meantime, Utah jumped from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-10 to bring that league up to 12 members. Fellow perennial BCS Buster Boise State of the Western Athletic Conference filled Utah’s spot in the MWC to leave us where we stand today.

It will be endlessly debated by bloggers, commentators, journalists and college sports fans as to which teams benefited the most from the latest round of conference reshuffling, and which ones lost out the most. Meanwhile, a relatively quiet debate has begun about the academic ramifications of the new shape of things. On a regional level, the Omaha World-Herald has done a nice job spelling out some of the potential ripple effects of UNL’s move to the Big Ten on a number of fronts.

Immediately after UNL’s move to the Big Ten became official, we began pitching stories to our friends in the national media to see if they were interested in taking a closer look at how Nebraska was able to even get into the conversation for Big Ten membership — and, now that UNL is the conference’s 12th member, what it means for our school, which in 2000 was actually the subject of a World-Herald series titled “Confronting Mediocrity.”

So we’ve framed the story thusly: Just 10 years ago, this move to the Big Ten wouldn’t have been academically possible. But UNL has spent the last 10 years on a steady upward trajectory; its national reputation has risen, its federal research haul has more than doubled, it’s hired strong faculty, it’s gone on a building boom, attracted better students and brought in more out-of-state students. Chancellor Perlman has said bluntly that if it were not for the marked improvements in the past decade, he doubts the Big Ten move would have been possible.

So, as June comes to an end, most people around the country have just begun to adjust to the notion of Nebraska as a Big Ten school — while to many in Lincoln, Neb., it doesn’t feel like as big as a leap as the conventional national wisdom might suggest. No matter how well the Huskers do on the Big Ten’s playing fields, one thing is certain: UNL’s academic clout and capacity will benefit from all of the conference movement, and stands to see its progress accelerate as it takes advantage of the various collaborative dynamics of the Big Ten. That’s what we’re telling reporters from USA TODAY and The Chronicle of Higher Education in our telephone conversations with them this month.

These pitches are long-term and take a while to gestate. They’re usually not something that appears a week after you plant the seeds at media outlets around the country. So we’re continuing to water them and tend to them, and we expect that UNL’s role in this story (with its status as an academic “winner” after the realignment dust has settled) will begin to bubble up nationally in the months — and certainly years — to come.

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