Column: Huskers leap to Big Ten product of desperation

By Lanny Holstein

Daily Nebraskan, U. Nebraska via UWIRE

When Nebraska made its move to the Big Ten conference, everyone applauded. It made sense.

The Husker Athletic Department needed a way out of the crumbling mess that was the Big 12 in the late 2000s, and the Big Ten offered them just that. It offered stability. The conference has been around since 1896 and has no plans of calling it quits. The Big Ten also offered tradition and location. Nationally recognized and right in Nebraska’s backyard, it made perfect sense for the Huskers.

Who wouldn’t want to be in the Big Ten at that point? The Big Ten offered everything that the Big 12 didn’t.

One aspect was particularly appealing to Husker fans: no Texas. It’s hard to refute all the conspiracy theories coming out at the time of the Nebraska conference move. Although most theories went too far, there is something fishy about the way the conference gradually moved to the side for Texas upon its induction in 1996. The first act of betrayal came at the formation of the conference when Arlington, Texas, became home to the conference headquarters. To Husker fans, this symbolized the shift of power from themselves and old Big Eight rival Oklahoma to the newly added southwest conference schools.

In 2009, the Big 12 championship football game moved on a permanent basis to Jerry World in Arlington. The championship game previously rotated between a northern site (usually Kansas City) and a southern one (Dallas or Houston) every two years. When schools voted 11-1 in favor of moving the game to Texas, Nebraska had a right to cry foul. It was the only school voting to keep the rotation.

That doesn’t make a lot of sense for a number of reasons. Why would the other five northern schools vote against a rotation? Why would they want to send their champion into enemy territory each year? The result of that vote should be split 6-6 down divisional lines every time but somehow, the South persuaded the North to turn on its divisional rival, Nebraska.

The move was necessary. Under the circumstances, Nebraska had no choice. It was either leave for the Big Ten or take your chances in the southern-favoring Big 12. With the old conference crumbling, Nebraska happily moved out.

But the Big 12 didn’t crumble. It added Texas Christian University and West Virginia in place of departing Nebraska, Missouri and Texas A&M. It signed a deal for a new bowl game pitting its champion against that of the SEC, the premier football conference. It rolled with the punches and appears to be just fine.

Is Nebraska still happy with its departure a year later after looking at what the Big 12 has done in its absence?
The Big 12 is a stronger athletic conference than the Big Ten. It provides more opportunities for success with its stronger competition, marquee match-ups and national attention. Admittedly, the Big 12 has its problems but it’s a better fit, from a purely competitive standpoint, than the Big Ten.

Nebraska had an extremely advantageous position in the Big 12, something many fans and administrators might have overlooked. Sitting as kingpin in the North Division, it had an easy route to a football championship every year. The school gained national recognition for playing in a top tier conference but didn’t face the full brunt of the conference’s might. With Michigan and Michigan State in the Legends Division and an annual crossover game with Penn State, the Huskers won’t be getting that benefit in their new arrangement.

Everything comes down to football at Nebraska — it really does. The Big Ten offers a better product on the basketball court than the Big 12 does. Last season, four Big Ten teams made the Sweet 16 compared to only two from the Big 12, but that does not matter. The Big 12 still offered enough competition for the Huskers, a non-basketball school, to be competitive nationally (if they had the talent), something Big Ten baseball did not offer them this season.

The decision to change conferences is complex. On one hand, Texas took control of the Big 12 and treated Nebraska poorly but on the other hand, the Huskers sat in command in the North. The breaking point in all of this was the stability factor. The Big 12 appeared headed for disaster in late 2010, and the Huskers were the first to jump ship.

They had to.

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