Despite last week’s announcement that Oakland was leaving the Summit League for the Horizon League, UNO Chancellor John Christensen said the Mavericks’ home for their programs other than hockey is in good shape.
“I think everyone in every conference nationally has a certain level of concern,” Christensen said Thursday, after addressing the Omaha Press Club. “There’s an enormous amount of change that’s taking place … but I really think the conference is stable. We’ve been very careful about who it is we might think would be a good fit, and that is an ongoing conversation.”
The Summit’s reputation for its shifting membership was established before the moves of the past couple of years.
Just before UNO announced its move to Division I in 2011, Centenary dropped to Division III, creating an opening in the Summit for South Dakota. Then Southern Utah left for better geographic alignment in the Big Sky, creating the opening for the Mavs. Before UNO competed in an official Summit League contest, Oral Roberts made a geographic move to the Southland.
The league made a strong addition last fall by plucking Denver from the troubled Western Athletic Conference, but then Missouri-Kansas City opted out for the WAC earlier this year. Geography played a part in Oakland’s long-anticipated departure.
In addition to UNO and Denver, the other six schools left in the league are North Dakota State, South Dakota, South Dakota State, Western Illinois, Indiana-Purdue-Indianapolis and Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne.
“I think eight is OK,” Christensen said. “I personally would rather see a conference that had at least 10 if change is going to continue.
“But we’ve had a number of requests to join (in the past), and they’ve been turned down because one of the primary factors for consideration is (similar) institutions with similar (geographic) footprint.”
Christensen said Summit League Commissioner Tom Douple and his staff are working with league presidents, who are working with their athletic directors, to help identify potential future league members.
Meanwhile, UNO is halfway home in its four-year transition from Division II to Division I athletics.
Christensen was only half kidding when he told the Press Club audience that the NCAA had more rules governing Division I than the Internal Revenue Service and “Obamacare” combined.
“We’ve been working on making sure that operationally, organizationally and in terms of compliance that we are on target,” Christensen said. “They’ve visited three times now and we’re getting positive feedback.”
Christensen spoke about four hours before the Mav baseball team claimed a share of the Summit League championship in its first full season as a member of the conference.
“The success of our teams, already, is incredible,” Christensen said. “The baseball and softball teams have been out of this world. We’re going to have some fun with this.”
Eventually, Christensen said, UNO hopes to realize its long-stated goal to have baseball and softball facilities on campus.
“That will be our next effort,” he said. “We’re talking to people on a regular basis about that opportunity.”
Besides the difficulties for student-athletes to practice and compete off campus — not to mention recruiting advantages competitors with on-campus facilities have — Christensen said having baseball and softball on campus would benefit the student population at large.
“If our kids want to go watch a baseball game — and we’re leading the Summit League right now — they have to find a ride to go out to Boys Town, a Class B (high school) facility,” Christensen said. “It doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t think it makes sense to anyone else.”
The baseball and softball facilities would come, he said, after the $76 million arena that will house hockey — as well as the basketball and volleyball programs — is completed.
“I think it’s going to add value to Aksarben Village, it’s going to add value, tremendous, historic value, to the campus,” Christensen said of the arena, which is scheduled to be completed in 2015.
“We’re almost overwhelmed with interest from people wanting to use the facility, and that’s in part and perhaps in large measure due to the elimination at some point in the near future of the Civic Auditorium,” Christensen said. “We’re going to try to do what we do with everything, make sure it serves the community and our students at the same time.”
Contact the writer:
402-444-1027, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/RWhiteOWH