This summer, there was much talk about sports conferences realigning into some kind of super-conference. The sport that garnered the most attention was NCAA football, and it controlled how conferences would be realigned. After over-hyped daily media coverage and theory after theory of what universities would join other conferences, the University of Nebraska decided to join the Big Ten Conference.
There were a few reasons for the change, one of which the media stated (over and over again) was money. The other reason for Nebraska was spite; the football program was sick and tired of falling into line behind the University of Texas Longhorns.
The finances of the decision were simple for Nebraska. In 2009, the Cornhuskers raked in about $10 million for the athletic department. In 2009, Big Ten schools made approximately $20 million. That is $10 million that Nebraska was tempted with, through a better television contract and revenue sharing between the schools. It is really easy to bail on a conference when there is a $10 million greener pasture on the other side of the fence.
In the words of Neil Diamond, “Money talks, but it don’t sing and dance, and it don’t walk.” Well for Nebraska, the money came talking and they bolted. One of the most prestigious college football programs left the Big 12 Conference.
In the short history of the Big 12 Conference, Texas and Nebraska have a history of their own. When the Big 12 formed back in 1996, Nebraska was coming off back-to-back national championships in 1994 and 1995, and thought they would be able to possibly bully around the behind-the-scenes occurrences based on success. Well, Nebraska forgot about one big thing: they might have been the most successful, but they weren’t the most glamorous. That badge of honor went to the Longhorns, the team with the biggest alumni draw, largest state, and most importantly, the most money.
The first Big 12 championship game was between Texas and Nebraska and was a parallel to the power struggle to come within the conference. Texas were underdogs coming into the game and Nebraska was continuing their dynasty of the late 1990s. Late in the fourth quarter, Texas converted a 4th and 1 by throwing the ball off a play-action, and went on to win the game. It paralleled things to come in that Texas took the reigns of the Big 12 and has controlled the majority of how the Big 12 operates.
So this whole rivalry came full circle last season when the two teams met in the Big 12 title game, with Nebraska being the underdog and Texas continuing its dominance. It was a complete role reversal from 1996, but this time Texas won on a controversial clock management call, which allowed Texas to kick a field goal and advance to the National Championship game.
With the combination of money and spite, it was a pretty easy decision for Nebraska to bolt. So, what does that say about money in college athletics? Simply, it is the most important thing. Money is what keeps this entertainment business running, and don’t think sports is anything more than entertainment. The business savvy schools make the rules, and smaller ones fall in line because it is required.
With the conference realignment, Nebraska was tired of falling into line. So it took some money and will now look for a place at the big boy table in the Big Ten Conference.