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UNL News Blog

It all adds up to 10

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two weeks, you know already about UNL being speculated about, being given ultimatums regarding, and finally being introduced as the 12th and latest member of the Big Ten Conference. It’s exciting news on all sorts of levels — athletically, the conference has a long, storied tradition that goes back more than a century and conjures up images of Duffy Daugherty, Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes, the Rose Bowl, and more rivalry trophies than you can shake a bronze pig at.

Nebraska’s athletic culture fits the Big Ten like a glove — that was never a question. We clap for our opponents, even when they win. Football is king, but volleyball and wrestling aren’t exactly court jesters. We’re a big, Midwestern, land-grant state university with a funny mascot that will blend right in alongside Herky Hawk, Bucky Badger, Brutus Buckeye and Purdue Pete.

That’s always been the easy part to envision. It’s long been said, almost to the point of being a cliche, that academics would keep the Big Ten from considering Nebraska for membership, if it ever asked. Well, that myth has been sufficiently busted. Big Ten presidents voted unanimously to welcome UNL into the conference just 3 1/2 hours after Chancellor Perlman asked for and gained the NU Board of Regents’ approval to apply for Big Ten membership.

From University Communications’ standpoint, we knew this story was going to be the likes of which we’d never see again in our lifetimes. The national media interest in UNL’s conference alignment deliberations were so white-hot and intense that it was quite fruitless to push talking points, work the phones or to blast out a few dozen targeted pitches via e-mail. We knew — everyone knew — that the only legitimate opportunity for UNL to effectively tell its side of the story was out in the open with the cameras rolling. Of course, we all know how well Chancellor Perlman and Dr. Tom carried UNL’s message to the masses. To call their work on Friday a “home run” doesn’t do it justice. They were both masterful.

For those of us who work to shepherd UNL’s message on a daily basis, much of Friday was about logistics for press conferences — yes, we knew a good deal in advance that the Regents’ meeting would merely be good theater but really only a prelude to the main event at  5 p.m. — making sure the UNL home page was updated and handling waves of national media requests. The calls from Sports Illustrated, ESPN and the major metros in the Big Ten area began to trickle in Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. When we hit Send and circulated our press release at 10 before 5, and this broke across the wires …

Date: 6/11/2010 4:50 PM
Big Ten Conference approves Nebraska’s application for membership

Lincoln, Neb. (AP) — Big Ten Conference approves Nebraska’s application for membership, effective July 1, 2011.

… things really started to heat up. Calls from Des Moines, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh and all points in between began coming in. We knew the nation’s eye would turn to the 5 p.m. press conference to hear Perlman, Osborne and Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany talk about NU’s future in their new conference. And for the record, everyone involved did a great job. The event was jam-packed with reporters from all across the region and the country, and it went off without a hitch.

But our work didn’t end when the last question was finally answered at the Van Brunt Visitor’s Center. That’s because beyond being a gigantic sports story with multiple layers of narratives and intrigue, moving to the Big Ten also is an opportunity to further cement UNL’s academic reputation for local and regional audiences, and to have a coming-out party for national ones.

On the local front, it’s been a great success. The Omaha World-Herald framed UNL’s push into the Big Ten as a comeback story, the culmination of a decade’s worth of work to lift UNL from so-called mediocrity to the status of a powerful Midwestern research university. On the national level, we helped lock in interviews touting the university’s elite AAU member status — a must for Big Ten consideration — and also its “academic fit” among other Big Ten universities. Chancellor Perlman graciously gave up large portions of his weekend to fulfill a number of interview requests from around the country that focused on academics.

By Monday, after the torrent of media requests had relatively died down, we began pushing the academic side of the equation much more aggressively with a number of national pitches. Our main message: While much of the country is focusing on athletics, there’s a lot of fertile ground to plow on the academic side of the coin, and Nebraska has a lot to offer the Big Ten in that regard.

The trick, of course, is to not make it sound like we’re too giddy, and our pitches too much like rah-rah advertisements. That, of course, would turn reporters off. Instead, we’ve worked to frame this part of the story as a way to examine what big changes will take shape nationally when the conference realignment dust settles. In that regard, we’ve posited, Nebraska will truly be a “winner” in the area of academics; and more importantly its upward momentum will only accelerate with the inclusion into the Big Ten’s collaborative academic network. National reporters were pretty receptive to this notion Monday, mainly because they see academic realignment as a real and wide-reaching effect of conference realignment that perhaps hasn’t been fully explored yet.

Hopefully, our frame holds, a few of our pitches will bear fruit, and we’ll be seeing more stories of that nature in the days and weeks to come. I’d be surprised if we didn’t.

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