Nebraska to Become 12th Member of Big Ten Starting in 2011

The University of Nebraska relocated to the Big Ten conference, becoming the second school to abandon the Big 12 in as many days and setting up a big decision for the University of Texas.

Nebraska, winner of at least a share of five national football championships, was unanimously accepted yesterday as the 12th member of the Big Ten -- a day after Colorado left the Big 12 for the Pacific-10.

The University of Texas System Board of Regents called a special meeting for June 15 for “discussion and appropriate action regarding athletic conference membership.” Texas now is a member of the Big 12.

“This is a great day in the history of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln,” Cornhuskers Athletic Director Tom Osborne said at a 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 currently 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 yesterday.

Boise State University in Idaho accepted an invitation yesterday 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.

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.

‘Free-Market Economy’

“Adam Smith’s free-market economy lives another day,” said Rick Horrow, a sports consultant who has helped negotiate more than 100 public/private stadium-finance agreements. “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.

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 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 is among the schools ESPN reported will be invited to join the Pac-10.

Priorities Confused

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.”

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.

‘Tradition Gets Canned’

“It’s a shame tradition gets canned because of money,” he said in a telephone interview. “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.

“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.”

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