Dear ESPN, Nebraska should NOT return to the Big XII

26 Jun

On Wednesday, Oklahoma’s president said the Big XII “should strive for” a 12-team league.  Since it is the end of June, when you’re more likely to see snowflakes than college football news*, several outlets pounced on the story and began speculation on who teams XI and XII might be.

*Or at least, college football news outside of recruiting and arrests.  Those two topics know no off-season.

One of those pieces came from ESPN’s Jake Trotter, who broke down 12 possible additions from most likely (BYU, Memphis, Boise State, Cincinnati, etc.), less likely (Florida State and Clemson, or other defectors from a Power 5 conference), down to the least likely:  Nebraska.

You’re reading that correctly:  somebody at the Worldwide Leader made a case for Nebraska going back to the Big XII.

Now, before I rip his rationale to shreds, it is worth mentioning in Trotter’s defense that he considers North Dakota State* – a current member of the FCS – a much more likely addition than Nebraska.  Whether or not this improves Trotter’s credibility is up to you.

*Be sure to give Trotter credit for this spectacular factoid about the Bison:  “They actually have as many wins against the Big 12 as Kansas does in the last five years.”  

But let’s face it:  at best, suggesting Nebraska as a “new” member of the Big XII is an ignorant pipe dream.  At worst, it’s click-bait trolling.

So where is Trotter wrong in his assessment?  Let’s go line by line.  Trotter’s words are in bold.  My responses are not.

*   *   *

Put a truth serum in many Nebraska fans, and they would probably admit their realignment to the Big Ten hasn’t been what they hoped it would be.

Okay – so Trotter actually comes out of the gate with an ugly truth.  I think there are many of us who expected an easier time than a combined 22-10 conference (counting the 2012 championship game) in football and expected dominance in other sports (i.e. baseball) has not materialized.  There are lots are reasons for this, but that is an entirely separate discussion.  But four seasons is a little quick for buyer’s remorse.

Also, it’s worth remembering that in my “State of the Husker Nation” poll last November, 58% of the nearly 6,000 respondents said the decision to join the Big Ten was not a mistake.  Only 18.5% said it was a mistake.

The Huskers have fallen into second-tier status in the Big Ten.

 

Agree to disagree here.  Yes, the NU brand is not as shiny as it was in the inaugural Big Ten season of 2011 (again, an entirely separate discussion).  But to say NU is second-tier is ludicrous.

B1G tiers off the top of my head:

Top-Tier

  1. Ohio State.  The class of the conference.
  2. Michigan.  Even after Rich Rod and Hoke, the Wolverines are a top-tier program.  Period.
  3. Michigan State.  If you got that truth serum back out, how many Husker fans probably would trade straight up for MSU’s roster, coaches, and especially their recent success?
  4. Nebraska.  Yes, Wisconsin has owned Nebraska, but I cannot (will not?) say the Badgers are the better program.
  5. Wisconsin.  A top-tier program in any Power 5 conference.

Second-Tier

  1. Penn State.  If not for the sanctions (and the tarnish to Paterno’s legacy), they are securely in the top-tier – and they may get back there soon.
  2. Iowa.  The case could be made that Nebraska joining the Big Ten helped to knock the Hawkeyes to second-tier status.
  3. Minnesota.  They’ve crept out of the dregs.
  4. Northwestern.  At serious risk of falling out of the second-tier.

Bottom of the Barrel

  1. Maryland.  Need to prove something to earn a promotion to second-tier, but they’re close.
  2. Illinois.  Like Missouri in the 1980s and 90s – the potential is there.  The plan is not.
  3. Indiana.  Is it basketball season yet?
  4. Purdue.  Look!  We have a big drum!
  5. Rutgers.  Still a head-scratching decision by Jim Delany.  You know you would mock to the Big XII if they took a school of Rutgers’ caliber.

They’re in the division opposite Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, which reduces their number of marquee games.

Two things here:  1) Before the additional of Maryland and Rutgers, Nebraska was in the same division as Michigan and played an annual crossover game with Penn State.  Yes, the new geographic divisions have the marquee schools in the East, but remember:  2) In the old Big XII North, the marquee teams (Oklahoma, Texas, A&M) were in the opposite division.

Nebraska once played one of college football’s most storied rivalry games against Oklahoma. Today, Nebraska’s big rival is Iowa, which barely moves the needle in Lincoln, much less the rest of the country.

“Once” is the key word here.  For me, the NU-OU rivalry officially ended in the second year of the Big XII play – 1997 – when the two storied programs played their final annual contest before moving to the “play two years, take two years off” format that all North and South schools shared.  Had NU-OU remained an annual game (which was something OU did not want, by the way), I firmly believe it is much more difficult for NU to leave the XII in the first place.

As for Iowa, Trotter is correct that the game barely moves the needle in Lincoln.  But, surely Trotter would agree that it takes more than four seasons to build a strong rivalry (even if it does come with a generic, nondescript trophy sponsored by a grocery store).  Give the Iowa series a little more time before we declare it a dud – even if I believe that the Wisconsin game will likely surpass Iowa as NU’s hated rival.

Nebraska left the Big 12 primarily over its frustrations with the leadership at Texas.

That is a very oversimplified (if not completely inaccurate) statement.

If you were to ask me why NU left, Texas’s leadership doesn’t make the top three:

  1. Nebraska needed stability, and Texas (among others) were not looking to commit to the Big XII.  Back in 2010 the conference was a sinking ship and every school was racing for the lifeboats.  Texas had a life yacht, but had not interest in sharing it with others.
  2. The Big XII lacked leadership.  Dan Beebe was a bad commissioner who did little to strengthen the league or build unity.  (A cynic might note that the new leadership at Texas is a veiled reference to new conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby).
  3. Money.  Nebraska had the opportunity to make more money in the Big Ten than the Big XII.

But since Nebraska’s exit, the Longhorns have hired a president, a new athletic director and a new football coach.

So?  That pompous jerk  you hated in high school may have a new wife, a new job, and a new house, but the odds say he’s still a ______ that you don’t want to associate with.  Is the implication here that since Nebraska struggled to beat Mack Brown teams, they should come back and take a shot at Charlie Strong’s squads?

If the Huskers completely soured on their Big Ten experience, maybe they would be open to reconciliation.

What would have to happen for NU to “completely sour” on the Big Ten?

Let’s say Jim Delaney retires and is replaced by Dan Beebe 2.0.  Ohio State assumes the role of Texas, leading coalitions to block any idea, policy, or rule that Nebraska supports.  The rest of the Big Ten West starts giving Nebraska the same beat downs as Wisconsin.  All Husker games are locked into an 11 am kickoff on BTN.  Would that be enough to make NU look elsewhere?

Personally, I think that even if NU’s B1G adventure went to hell, Nebraska would stick it out for two reasons:  1) Pride, and 2) the check Big Ten schools will get from the next TV rights deal.

One thing is for sure: The Big 12 would welcome them back with open arms.

Oh Jake.  Remember how you started strong?  You could not be more wrong here.

Intentionally or not, Nebraska (and Husker fans) burned a lot of bridges on their way out the door in 2010.  Do you think it is a coincidence that no Big XII team has scheduled Nebraska in football or basketball since NU left?  I can’t find a link, but I remember reading that Nebraska has called Big XII schools looking for basketball games, and has been refused by all.

You could make an argument that the only folks in the Big XII land who would truly welcome Nebraska back would be the hoteliers, restaurant owners, and barkeeps in Ames, Manhattan, Lawrence, and other Big XII towns.

Otherwise?  The only open arms Nebraska might see would be from a spurned rival preparing to put a “kick me” sign on NU’s back during a feigned embrace.

 

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