Nebraska to Join Big Ten as 12th Member in 2011

The University of Nebraska will become the 12th member of the Big Ten conference, continuing what may become the biggest realignment of college sports leagues.

Nebraska applied today for admission to the conference and Big Ten schools unanimously approved its membership, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said at a news conference this evening in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Nebraska, the winner of at least a share of five national football championships, becomes the second school to leave the Big 12 Conference in two days, following the University of Colorado’s switch to the Pacific-10 Conference yesterday. ESPN reported this week that the University of Texas will be among five more Big 12 schools to be invited to join the Pac-10.

“This is a great day in the history of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln,” Athletic Director Tom Osborne said at the news conference. “We hope it’s a great day for the Big Ten.”

Nebraska will begin play July 1, 2011, in the Big Ten, which now has 11 schools ranging geographically from the University of Minnesota to Penn State University.

Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe said in a teleconference that he will try to keep his conference from breaking apart.

“We can compete well with our value compared to any conference in the country if we can just hold together,” Beebe said a half-hour before Delany’s news conference.

Texas Regents Meeting

The University of Texas System Board of Regents called a special meeting for June 15 for “discussion and appropriate action regarding athletic conference membership.”

The realignments are being triggered by the potential for increased revenue from conference sports networks, with little regard to regional proximity or long-held rivalries, analysts said. The Big Ten has a conference sports network; the Big 12 does not.

Adam Smith’s free-market economy lives another day,” Rick Horrow, a sports consultant who has helped negotiate more than 100 public/private stadium-finance agreements, said yesterday. “Rather than being the end of the world, it is an opportunity to maximize economic creativity and leverage which everybody wants.”

Horrow is a contributing editor to Bloomberg Television.

Boise State University in Idaho today accepted an invitation to join the Mountain West Conference from the Western Athletic Conference, where it won or shared the football title in seven of the last eight seasons.

Big Ten Study

The Big Ten, which is centered in the Midwest, had hired William Blair & Company LLC to evaluate whether it would be beneficial to add Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Missouri, Syracuse and Rutgers, the Chicago Tribune reported in March. Nebraska and Missouri later said they also would listen to offers to switch conferences.

The switch might affect the Cornhuskers’ rivalry with the University of Oklahoma that dates to Nov. 23, 1912. School officials didn’t say if the rivalry would continue as part of a non-conference schedule. Oklahoma was among the schools that ESPN reported will be invited to join the Pac-10.

School leaders have gotten their priorities confused in the rush to increase revenue, said Nate Eckloff, 54, former president of the Nebraska Alumni Association and current managing director at RBC Capital Markets in Denver.

“Universities see sports as a magnet for the foundation and getting contributions,” Eckloff said in an interview this week. “But we’ve gone way past that now. It’s sad.”

Rivalries, Revenue

While fans understand history and rivalries, the opportunity to increase revenue becomes too difficult to pass up, said Rick Gentile, who teaches sports management at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, and is a former executive producer and senior vice president at CBS Sports.

“It’s a shame tradition gets canned because of money,” he said in a telephone interview yesterday. “But there is a finite amount you can raise ticket and tuition prices. This is a lay-up for Nebraska. They don’t have to expand their stadium or improve anything. They just change conferences and make a bunch of money.”

Gentile says the death knell for the Big 12 came when the Big Ten started its TV network and turned it into a financial success.

TV Money

“Go ahead and take a moment to pine away a little,” Gentile said. “But this isn’t shocking or new. You have to make money where the money is makeable and there is money in the network business.”

Last weekend, the Pac-10 gave Commissioner Larry Scott the authority to expand his conference, leading to the announcement yesterday that Colorado would jump from the Big 12.

ESPN reported on June 7 that Scott said an expansion decision could come as early as July 27, when the Pac-10 meets in New York City for media day. Any new schools wouldn’t join the conference until the 2012-13 season, Scott said.

The Pac-10 will start discussing a new television agreement at the end of 2010. They’ve hired Creative Artists Agency to handle the negotiations.

“We absolutely could move more quickly if we needed to, but we’re under no pressure to decide anything earlier than the end of the year,” Scott said at a press conference following the conference meetings.

To contact the reporter on this story: Curtis Eichelberger in Washington at ceichelberge@bloomberg.net

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