Creighton University board members say the potential for higher visibility on the East Coast sold them on the move to the new Big East athletic conference.
“It dovetails nicely with our strategy for opening up national markets, not only for student athletes, but for the general student population,” said Mark Denniston Huber, CEO of Corporate Ventures in Omaha.
“You can't ask for better advertising for Creighton and for Omaha,” he said. “People from the East Coast are going to hear about Omaha on a regular basis, in a positive light and about a positive program.”
Huber and three other members of Creighton's Board of Trustees discussed the move to the Big East during interviews Wednesday. Others interviewed were Scott Heider, managing principal of Chartwell Capital in Omaha, Richard T. Kizer, chairman of Central States Health and Life Co. in Omaha, and George F. Haddix of Riverton Management Resources.
“The board had a pretty lively discussion about all the effects it would have on Creighton, including athletics and beyond athletics,” Haddix said.
“It took several meetings. We had several committees looking at different aspects.”
The finance, athletics and student resources committees all looked at issues, he said.
Kizer, vice chairman of the board, said the board discussed the pros and cons for several weeks before wholeheartedly endorsing the move.
“As far as I know, it was a unanimous decision, total and complete support on the part of the board,” he said. “That's not to say there weren't concerns, but after analyzing it and weighing the pros and cons, it seemed to every one this was the right decision.”
While the new league clearly would boost Creighton's athletic revenues, particularly through a lucrative agreement with Fox Sports, the board members also recognized that it would cost more to compete.
Several of those interviewed said the board was particularly concerned about higher travel costs and the impact of more travel on student athletes.
“It's obviously going to put Creighton in a very excellent position to become more nationally known,” Haddix said.
The board concluded that travel would be less arduous and time-consuming because athletes could be flown to games in other Big East cities, as opposed to the often-long bus rides required in the Missouri Valley Conference. The added revenues will more than pay for the travel costs.
Board members did lament the end of Creighton's long relationship with the MVC.
“There were a lot of things in play here,” Kiser said. “The past relationships, the friendships developed over the years with the Missouri Valley schools, compared to the opportunity to gain the university additional exposure by playing in a major basketball conference.
“That's a new opportunity we did not want to lose out on.”
Heider is chairman of the fundraising campaign to support the expansion of Creighton's business college, to be moved this fall into significantly larger quarters in the Mike and Josie Harper Center.
Creighton wants to expand its business college enrollment from about 650 students to more than 1,000.
Heider said he believes that the move to the Big East will help Creighton attract more top-notch business students from the eastern United States.
“As far as we're concerned, the timing could not be better,” Heider said.
About 80 percent of Creighton's business students come from out of state, Heider said.
Creighton officials in charge of admissions and fundraising also said they were eager for the expanded market provided by Big East membership.
Rick Virgin, Creighton's vice president for development, said the change presents both challenges and opportunities.
Creighton will need to boost its athletics budget to be competitive with the other Big East schools, he said. But it also will have a higher national profile that will give it access to more philanthropists and potential students from across the country.
“This is an opportunity that doesn't come along very often,” he said.
Admissions director Sarah Richardson agreed. Though Creighton already has a “very strong profile” among the nation's top students, she expects the new conference to give the university better exposure in areas in which it's less widely known today.
“Our goal is to remain a strong national institution with a strong local base,” she said.
Board member Huber said he sees Creighton's Big East membership as a “branding opportunity” for Omaha, much like the College World Series.
There are risks, he said. Creighton will face much tougher competition.
All seven of the core members of the new league are former NCAA Final Four qualifiers in men's basketball.
“Do you want to be a big fish in a small pond?” Huber asked. “Or do you want to be a big fish in a big pond?”
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