Coaches express hope for U Nebraska’s Big Ten future

By Dan Hoppen

It’s not often that U. Nebraska head football coach Bo Pelini pops a joke at a press conference.

But when asked Friday about how he felt about leaving the Big 12 and the rivalries NU has within the conference, Pelini, who’s never been afraid to express his displeasure to officials, responded, “I’m not a real emotional guy. You all know that.”

The smile on Pelini’s face was one of many signs that Big 12 coaches gave Friday that expressed excitement about joining the Big Ten. Both men’s basketball coach Doc Sadler and volleyball coach John Cook also seemed pleased with the move.

“I think it’s exciting for everybody,” Sadler said. “Obviously we’ve got to be concerned about this year. This stuff is happening a year from now … We’re going to get ready for this year and when it does come next July, we’ll be ready and we’ll be excited.”

The plan is for NU to play one last year in the Big 12, then join the Big Ten for the start of the 2011-2012 academic year. Scheduling plans, as well as how divisions might be divided up, are undecided at this point.

Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne said he brought all the university’s coaches together to discuss the potential move twice, including a meeting just three days before the move became official. Both times, he took a vote on whether the coaches approved of switching conferences or not.

To his surprise, both times the coaches voted unanimously in favor of joining the Big Ten.

“We feel good about it,” Osborne said. “Our coaches are quite enthusiastic.”

Several NU coaches have previous associations with the Big Ten. Pelini played free safety for the Buckeyes and graduated from Ohio State before becoming a graduate assistant at Iowa in 1991. Cook coached at Wisconsin for seven years before coming to Nebraska in 1999.

“I’m familiar with the Big Ten Conference growing up in Ohio and (having) played there,” Pelini said. “It’s a great conference. It has great reputation.”

The coaches were also excited about the amount of interest the move will generate for their programs, which all expect to see attendance spikes with fans curious to see how the Huskers fare against their new conference opponents.

The move also comes at a time when the state is building a new basketball arena and NU is considering adding seats to Memorial Stadium.

“It’s going to create a lot of interest,” Cook said. “We’re probably going to get a longer list of people waiting for season tickets, because it’s new and exciting and these are great, traditional programs.”

The move is also expected to help the coaches with recruiting. The new territory opens up recruiting pipelines, and the conference’s heralded Big Ten Network is an attractive feature for athletes that want to be on national television often.

Weather will no longer be as large of a recruiting factor either.

As Osborne said Friday, the idea of coming to a school with often frigid winters can be a turnoff for some potential recruits. Now, though, NU will more often compete for recruits against schools with similar climates, instead of the balmy weather of Texas.

“As Coach Osborne said, I think it really helps us in recruiting,” Sadler said. “It gives us an area (to recruit); as he mentioned earlier, weather is something that you fight. I’m excited about that part of it. I think it gives us, for the first time, a legit area that we can really concentrate on.”

Nebraska’s defection appears to be just one of the first in a long line of dominoes about to fall. Colorado has already joined the Pac-10, and most of the Big 12 South appears to be ready to join them, if the Southeastern Conference doesn’t lure them away first. The Pac-10, Big Ten and SEC have all expressed some interest in expanding to a 16-team “super conference.”

“I think as everybody is finding out, I don’t think anything in college athletics is here to stay,” Sadler said. “There’s going to be change. You deal with what’s happening right now and when there’s more change, then you deal with that.”

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