LINCOLN — Two new members joining the Big Ten Conference means the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's academic ranking just went from 12th in the league to 14th.
But Chancellor Harvey Perlman said he expects that UNL academics will be better in the long run because of the Big Ten's new affiliations with the University of Maryland and Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.
“These are high-powered institutions — we think we are as well,” Perlman said. “Somebody's got to be 14th. I'd rather be 14th in the Big Ten than No. 1 in some other conference.”
The two new members are expected to start competing in Big Ten athletics in fall 2014. The Committee on Institutional Cooperation, which is the Big Ten's academic organization, is expected to vote next week on whether to admit the two new members.
Both Rutgers and Maryland are substantially larger in terms of enrollment than UNL and its closest Big Ten neighbor, the University of Iowa.
Rutgers has about 40,000 students at its flagship New Brunswick campus. Maryland has about 37,000 students at its College Park campus.
In comparison, UNL has about 24,500 students, and Iowa has about 31,500 students — the two smallest public institutions in the Big Ten.
And, according to this year's U.S. News & World Report ratings, both new members outrank Nebraska and Iowa academically.
U.S. News put Maryland 58th among national research universities, which would be the seventh-best among the Big Ten. Rutgers ranked 68th nationally, which would tie Minnesota as ninth-highest among the Big Ten.
Iowa ranked 72nd nationally in the U.S. News ratings, and UNL was 101st.
Iowa President Sally Mason said the memberships of Maryland and Rutgers “absolutely” will create new academic opportunities for Iowa faculty and students.
“I can't see one down side” as far as academics, she said.
Barbara McFadden Allen, executive director of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, or CIC, based in Champaign, Ill., said she expected Rutgers' and Maryland's applications to be accepted swiftly. Her staff will launch efforts to integrate the two new members into the Big Ten academic arm early next year, she said.
The two institutions' academic reputations were taken into consideration as they were considered for membership in the Big Ten, she said.
“They're looking at the whole picture; they're not going to bring forward an institution that's a poor match on either side (in academics or athletics).”
Both institutions are members of the prestigious Association of American Universities, Maryland since 1969 and Rutgers since 1989.
The organization last year voted to oust UNL — which had been a member since 1909 — because it fell short on some of the organization's criteria for membership, particularly competitive research funding and the number of faculty who belong to national academies. Perlman has said those indicators don't give adequate credit to UNL's strengths as a land grant university and a center for agricultural research.
Perlman and Mason both have said that Big Ten membership has opened up academic opportunities for their institutions, particularly in the recruitment of students and in faculty collaboration.
For example, UNL brain researcher Dennis Molfese has become Big Ten coordinator of a groundbreaking national study about brain injuries in sports.
To help forge bonds among scientists, UNL plant pathologist James Van Etten, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, arranged a lecture series featuring other academy members from the Big Ten.
Nebraska and Iowa officials see another potential plus to an expanding Big Ten: student recruitment.
Perlman said it's too early to say whether a bigger Big Ten will provide UNL with more recruits on the academic side.
“It clearly makes UNL more visible on the East Coast, in New Jersey and Maryland and Washington,” he said. “It might create some prospective students who will think of us. It certainly can't hurt.”
Perlman has set a goal to boost enrollment to 30,000 by 2017. UNL admissions officials say they expect to find many of those new students in Big Ten country.
Last year, UNL implemented higher tuition rates for students in the College of Business Administration and the Engineering College to generate more money to improve those two highly competitive programs. The College of Business Administration has mounted a major fundraising campaign to build an $84 million facility and increase its enrollment nearly 60 percent, to 5,000 students.
Mason said the Big Ten Network poses a significant opportunity for raising East Coast awareness of both Iowa and UNL.
“It's a huge boon for all of us for spreading the word about our schools, in athletics and beyond athletics,” she said.
“It's going to be harder to think of us as flyover country.”
Location: New Brunswick, N.J.
Distance from Lincoln: 1,290 miles (21 hours, 57 minutes by car)
Mascot: Scarlet Knights
Did you know? College football originated at Rutgers University. Rutgers and Princeton faced off in the first intercollegiate football game on Nov. 6, 1869. Rutgers defeated Princeton 6-4. The game was dramatically different from how it is played today and more closely resembled rugby. Each team had 25 men. Two members positioned themselves near their own goal lines to protect it, while the remaining players divided into groups to advance the down the field. The ball could move only by being kicked or battled by the feet, hands, head or sides. Each time a team scored, the “game” was finished. The teams would play 10 “games” to win the contest.
Academics: One of nine schools established before the American Revolution. Has seven graduate colleges ranked in the top 10 by U.S. News & World Report. An all-boys school until 1918, when women were first admitted.
Notable alumni: Roger Bart (actor), Kristin Davis (actor), Robert Pinsky (former U.S. poet laureate), Brian Leonard (Cincinnati Bengals), Carli Lloyd (U.S. Women's National Soccer Team), Garret Hobart (U.S. vice president), James Florio (governor), Sharon Fordham (CEO of Weight Watchers), Natalie Morales (NBC's Today Show)
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