University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Move to the Big 10

Harvey Perlman at podium

Harvey Perlman providing the 2011 "State of the University" address.

Jim Delany

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney. Used with permission from The Lantern. Credit: Jacob Myers, managing editor

Jake Althouse, History 250: The Historian Craft

On June 12, 2012, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln decided to leave the Big 12 Conference and join the Big Ten Conference. At the time, the move shocked the world of college athletics, as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln had been one of the original founders of the Big 12 and had traditional rivalries with schools such as the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas. ESPN called the switch “the biggest move yet in an offseason overhaul that will leave college sports looking much different by this time next year”. [1] The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s move to the Big Ten Conference was fueled primarily by athletic motivations, however, the move increased the academic profile of the University, changed the University’s identity, and provided the University with significant financial benefits.

A desire for stability in athletics was the primary motivation that led the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to leave the Big 12 to join the Big Ten. At the time of the University’ s decision to join the Big Ten, the Big 12 was extremely unstable in terms of its membership. Various news outlets had reported rumors that several other universities were planning on leaving the conference, such as the University of Texas, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Colorado-Boulder. [2] As a result, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln did not want to be left behind in a smaller and fragmented conference. In addition, a smaller conference would have lowered the prestige of the the University’s athletics, as well as lowered revenue. Simply put, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln would have been at a significant disadvantage if it stayed in the Big 12 while schools, such as the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma, left to join a different conference. Many people in Nebraska agreed with this sentiment, despite the fact that moving to the Big Ten would abandon traditional rivals. An article from Daily Nebraskan echoed this sentiment: “Simply enough, Nebraska had no assurance the conference would survive even if it stayed, so it had to jump at the opportunity to join a stable, prestigious conference.” [3] In order to ensure stability for its athletics program, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln had to leave the Big 12 and join the Big Ten.

The lack of stability in the Big 12 was caused in by the conference’s favoritism toward certain schools, prompting the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to leave for a conference that promised equality. In the years prior to the move to the Big Ten, University administrators in Lincoln had grown frustrated regarding the Big 12’s bias towards schools in the Big 12 South Division, primarily the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma. [4] University of Nebraska-Lincoln officials felt the Big 12’s league office was catering to the needs of these schools, and ignoring the interests of other members. For example, the league’s office decided to move the Big 12 championship game to Dallas, Texas in 2009, away from the game’s traditional home in Kansas City, Missouri. [5] University officials were upset over this move, as the game was now farther away from Nebraska and literally in Texas, instead of being equidistant for all parties. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln decided to leave the Big 12 for the Big Ten in part because of the Big 12’s instability that was fueled by inequality.

Although the University’s decision to leave the Big 12 was fueled by athletic motivations, the move to the Big Ten dramatically raised the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s academic profile by increasing the ability to recruit higher quality students, faculty, and administrators to the University. Overall, Big Ten universities were perceived as being higher-quality academic institutions than Big 12 universities at the time. Chancellor Harvey Perlman noted the importance of a Big Ten degree in his State of the University Address in 2012: “We need to relentlessly pursue every Nebraska high school graduate to demonstrate that this University is the only one where they can get the breadth of opportunity, the richness of experience, and the life-time value of a Big Ten degree at resident tuition rates.” [6] Perlman acknowledged the reality that moving to the Big Ten increased the academic profile of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Since the University raised its academic profile, it was now able to attract higher quality students, faculty, and administrators to the University. In a teleconference with members of the Association of American Universities (AAU), Perlman noted this exact effect: “Big Ten: We see significant increases in the quality of the students, faculty, and administrators we are able to recruit." [7] By moving to the Big Ten Conference, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was able to attract higher quality personnel to campus, which altered the University’s identity.

The move to the Big Ten fueled a renewed emphasis on research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In an executive meeting of faculty, Professor Kenneth Nickerson noted that the University must increase research to keep pace with the rest of the Big Ten: “Many schools in the Big Ten that are members of the AAU have far more support for research faculty members, thereby allowing them to teach less and conduct more research.” [8] When the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was in the Big 12, they lagged behind the research done by Big Ten schools. In order to keep pace with the rest of the Big Ten, the University had to expand research on campus. By increasing research on campus, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln further raised its academic profile, as research is a critical component of a school’s academic profile. Thus, another positive effect of moving to the Big Ten Conference was the renewed focus on research at the University.

In addition to a renewed focus on research opportunities, the move to the Big Ten also provided the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with membership on the Committee on Institutional Cooperation.When the Big Ten accepted the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s membership, faculty and administration were simultaneously invited to join the Committee on Institutional Cooperation. The Committee on Institutional [9] Cooperation is a committee of all of the universities in the Big Ten Conference, as well as the University of Chicago. The committee works together on various projects, including “research opportunities, shared course offerings, study abroad collaborations and joint purchasing agreements.” [10] By working on projects with the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln raised its academic prestige as an University. In addition, membership on the committee is prestigious and exclusive, as it only includes Big Ten schools and the University of Chicago. Thus, membership on the committee raised the academic profile of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s decision to join the Big Ten Conference sparked a new sense of ambition on campus. As mentioned before, joining the Big Ten enabled the University to recruit higher quality students, faculty, and administration. By having higher quality personnel on campus, there was an overall increase in ambition at the University. In his State of the University Address in 2011, Chancellor Harvey Perlman acknowledged this change: “I want to suggest that as we elevate our ambitions as a Big Ten university, these same priorities remain the key to our success.” [11] Perlman recognized that joining the Big Ten meant higher expectations for the University. In order to meet these expectations, the University had to elevate its goals and mindset. Without a doubt, sparking a new sense of ambition is a positive for any university, as it fuels excitement, passion, and motivation on campus.

By joining the Big Ten, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln ensured itself a strong financial future fueled by revenue from the  conference. Since the creation of conferences, the Big Ten had always led the way in creating revenue for its members. To begin, the conference revolutionized college sports with the creation of the Big Ten network in August of 2007. [12] The Big Ten Network televised essentially every sporting event in the Big Ten, and was accessible in about ninety million homes in only four years. However, the most crucial aspect of the creation of the Big Ten Network was the revenue the network provided to the conference. Each member school of the Big Ten received roughly nine million dollars per year when the network was created in 2007. [13] Nine million dollars a year is a huge financial bonus for any university in America. In addition, financial projections in 2007 showed that the Big Ten would gain a minimum of 2.8 billion dollars from the network by 2027, which corresponded to about 254 million dollars for each of the eleven universities in the Big Ten at the time. [14] These are astonishing figures that show the financial strength of the conference. Simply put, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln positioned itself to reap massive financial benefits by becoming a member of the Big Ten Conference.

Recent studies and investigations have shown that the financial benefits the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has gained and will gain from joining the Big Ten are larger than expected. In 2017, the University received roughly 51 million dollars from being a member of the conference, a huge increase from the original projections of nine million dollars per year in 2007. [15] In addition, 51 million dollars was almost double the amount of money that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln received from the Big Ten in 2016. Thus, it is without question that the money received from the Big Ten will continue to increase over time. In addition, a new media rights deal for the conference begins in 2018. The new media rights deal is projected to be worth around 440 million dollars per year, which translates to roughly 31.4 million dollars for each school in the conference. As a result, money received from [16] the Big Ten is expected to dramatically increase as the new media rights deal begins. In comparison, the University only received a nine million dollars from the Big 12 in 2010. [17] Current Chancellor Ronnie Green has acknowledged the impact of money from the Big Ten, and when asked about its importance, he said the following: “It’s obviously a big deal…We [The University of Nebraska-Lincoln] have benefited in big ways from being in the Big Ten.” [18] Without question, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has received significant financial benefits from its membership in the Big Ten, and providing the University with an incredibly strong financial future.

Athletics, students, and faculty members are all positively affected by the financial benefits the University of Nebraska-Lincoln receives for being a member of the Big Ten Conference. For students, and specifically non-athletes, money from the Big Ten has allowed the University to create a five million dollar scholarship fund for non-athlete students. [19] In total, ten million dollars per year are given to academic programs from the athletics department, which includes money from the Big Ten. By creating more scholarships and funding more academic programs, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was able to increase its academic standing, attract higher quality students, and provide a better education for those on campus. Faculty members also benefitted from this influx of money, as their academic programs received the funding they needed. Money from the Big Ten also directly impacted the athletics department and athletes on campus. Most of the money was used for facility upgrades, such as renovations to the north and south ends of Memorial Stadium that were projected to cost roughly 50 million dollars. In addition, the money received from the Big Ten has created stability within the athletics department. Currently, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is one of the few schools in the nation that receives no "university, taxpayer, or student fee subsides”, while still having one of the largest athletic budgets in the nation at 112 million dollars. [20] The athletics department did not have to worry about reduced funding from the state or University, as the department was entirely self funded in part from money from the Big Ten. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s decision to join the Big Ten produced dramatic financial benefits, which in turn had positive effects on the students, faculty, and athletics of the University.

When the University of Nebraska-Lincoln joined the Big Ten Conference on June 12, 2012, the narrative was that the University left the Big 12 because of football. Without a doubt, athletic motivations played a major role in the University’s decision to join the Big Ten. The University wanted stability and equality in athletics, and the Big Ten was the best option for both. However, the move to the Big Ten has produced tremendous benefits outside of athletics. For academics, the move provided membership on the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, allowed for the recruitment of higher quality students, faculty, and administrators, encouraged new research, and fueled new ambitions. Financially, the move provided the University with tremendous financial benefits, and created a strong financial future based on revenue from the Big Ten. As a result, although the University of Nebraska-Lincolns’s move to the Big Ten Conference was fueled primarily by athletic motivations, the move also increased the academic profile of the University and provided the University with significant financial benefits. When asked what membership in the Big Ten meant for the University, former Chancellor Harvey Perlman had a very similar idea: “In athletics, it is a new set of peers, new rivalries, new venues, new challenges. In academics, it is new colleagues, a new seat on the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, a new set of opportunities and expectations. The most important impact of our transition to the Big Ten is, however, in how we view ourselves and what new ambitions we must embrace.” [21] In short, the move to the Big Ten Conference fundamentally altered the trajectory of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in academics, athletics, and finances for years to come.


Endnotes:

  1. Associated Press, “Nebraska 1 Approved by Big 10,” ESPN, June 12th, 2010, http://www.espn.com/college-sports/news/story?id=5276551
  2. Max Olson, “A primer on the Big move,” The Daily Nebraskan, August 19th, 2010, http://www.dailynebraskan.com/sports/a-primer-on-the-big-move/article_6a8f6a1f-459c-5dac-9baee78dc828ef45.html
  3. Max Olson, “Huskers join Big 10,” The Daily Nebraskan, June 14th, 2010, http://www.dailynebraskan.com/huskers-join-big-ten/article_65ee3cc9-0b32-518a-99d8-bc8b10a52342.html
  4. Justin Ferguson, “5 Years Later, Did Nebraska Make Right Choice Leaving Big 12 for Big Ten?” Bleacher Report, June 11, 2015, https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2493105-5-years-laterdid-nebraska-make-right-choice-leaving-big-12-for-big-ten
  5. Ferguson, “5 Years Later, Did Nebraska Make Right Choice Leaving Big 12 for Big Ten?”
  6. RG 05-26-00 Perlman B1, Perlman AAU 2 of 7, Archives and Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries
  7. RG 05-26-00 Perlman B1, AAU Papers, Archives and Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries
  8. RG 05-26-00Perlman B1, Perlman AAU 2 of 7, Archives and Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries.
  9. Dennis Kellogg, “UNL Move to Big 10 Impacts More Than Football,” NET, August 25th, 2011,http://netnebraska.org/article/news/unl-move-big-ten-impacts-more-football.
  10. Kellogg, “UNL Move to Big 10 Impacts More Than Football”
  11. RG 05-26-00 Perlman B1, Perlman AAU 2 of 7, Archives and Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries.
  12. Karen Weaver, “A Game Change: Paying for Big-Time College Sports,” Taylor and Francis Online, January 13th, 2011, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00091383.2011.533099
  13. Weaver, “A Game Change: Paying for Big-Time College Sports”
  14. Weaver, “A Game Change: Paying for Big-Time College Sports”
  15. Henry Cordes, “Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten pays off, with almost 51 million on the way this year,” Omaha World-Herald, October 17th, 2017, https://www.omaha.com/news/education/nebraska-s-move-to-the-big-ten-pays-off-with/article_b3a0c321-abd9-5786-878dd02e1bc7c422.html
  16. Aaron Hegarty, “UNL to receive full Big Ten benefits after six years,” The Daily Nebraskan, May 31st, 2017, http://www.dailynebraskan.com/nse/unl-to-receive-full-big-ten-benefits-aftersix-years/article_4c48981c-38e0-11e7-a20e-4f245739bd5d.html
  17. Hegarty, “UNL to receive full Big Ten benefits after six years”
  18. Cordes, “Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten pays off”
  19. Cordes, “Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten pays off”
  20. Cordes, “Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten pays off”
  21. RG 05-26-00 Perlman B1 (Perlman AAU 2 of 7)

Bibliography:

  • RG 05-26-00 Perlman B1, AAU Papers, Archives and Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries
  • RG 05-26-00 Perlman B1, Perlman AAU 2 of 7, Archives and Special Collections, University ofNebraska-Lincoln Libraries.
  • Associated Press. “Nebraska Approved by the Big Ten.” ESPN. June 12th, 2010. http://www.espn.com/college-sports/news/story?id=5276551
  • Cordes, Henry. “Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten pays off, with almost 51 million on the way this year.” Omaha World-Herald. October 17th, 2017. https://www.omaha.com/news/education/nebraska-s-move-to-the-big-ten-pays-off-with/article_b3a0c321-abd9-5786-878d-d02e1bc7c422.html
  • Hegarty, Aaron. “UNL to receive full Big Ten benefits after six years.” The Daily Nebraskan. May 31st, 2017. http://www.dailynebraskan.com/nse/unl-to-receive-full-big-ten-benefitsafter-six-years/article_4c48981c-38e0-11e7-a20e-4f245739bd5d.html
  • Kellogg, Dennis. “UNL Move to Big 10 Impacts More Than Football.” NET. August 25th, 2011. http://netnebraska.org/article/news/unl-move-big-ten-impacts-more-football
  • Olson, Max. “A primer on the Big move.” The Daily Nebraskan. August 19th, 2010. http://www.dailynebraskan.com/sports/a-primer-on-the-big-move/
    article_6a8f6a1f-459c-5dac-9bae-e78dc828ef45.html
  • Olson, Max. “Huskers join Big 10. The Daily Nebraskan. June 14th, 2010. http://www.dailynebraskan.com/huskers-join-big-ten/article_65ee3cc9-0b32-518a-99d8-bc8b10a52342.html
  • Ferguson, Justin. “5 Years Later, Did Nebraska Make Right Choice Leaving Big 12 for Big Ten.” Bleacher Report. June 11th, 2015. https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2493105-5-yearslater-did-nebraska-make-right-choice-leaving-big-12-for-big-ten
  • Weaver, Karen. “A Game Change: Paying for Big-Time College Sports.” Taylor and Francis, January 13th, 2011. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/
    10.1080/00091383.2011.533099
University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Move to the Big 10