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Shatel: Is this the beginning of the end of Nebraska in the Big Ten?
COMMENTARY

Shatel: Is this the beginning of the end of Nebraska in the Big Ten?

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Both Nebraska and the Big Ten came into this marriage thinking they were doing the other one a favor. I don’t think either side is that impressed with the other, writes Tom Shatel.

This will be the day that changed everything. The shape of universities. The fabric of college football. The strength and charm of so many college towns.

The dominoes are about to fall and they’re going to land on a lot of good people.

And one might happen that we didn’t expect.

Will we remember this as the beginning of the end of Nebraska and the Big Ten?

Absolutely. And the way the Big Ten and Kevin Warren have conducted themselves, that would be a good thing.

The signals were sent initially by Scott Frost on Monday and retransmitted on Tuesday by Frost, NU President Ted Carter, Chancellor Ronnie Green and Athletic Director Bill Moos.

They were received in all corners of the internet world. On Tuesday, I was a guest on a sports talk show in San Francisco.

First question: “Is Nebraska bolting for the Big 12?”

I don’t hear any denials coming out of Lincoln. Or Chicago.

This came up because Frost on Monday said that while NU was a “proud member of the Big Ten,” it was not so proud that it wouldn’t look for other schools to play if the Big Ten shut down this fall.

Frost, along with NU’s top brass, reiterated that intent on Tuesday after the Big Ten’s announcement.

Now, is Nebraska actually going to play any games this fall? Not if every other league is shut down, too. But really, that was beside the point.

That was Nebraska doing more than asserting its displeasure with the Big Ten. It looked like a cry for help, a flare to any other conference that might be paying attention.

Say, one to the south.

You can guarantee it was heard to the north and east — all the way to ESPN, where Northwestern grad Michael Wilbon went on a Nebraska rant. Wilbon accused Nebraska of whining and added, “The Big Ten has operated for 116 seasons, mostly damn successful, without Nebraska ...”

He added that he hoped someone on the Big Ten presidents call told Nebraska to “get the hell out.”

Looks like this shotgun marriage could be on the rocks.

It’s important to remember that 10 years ago, Nebraska was running away from the Big 12 — not running to the Big Ten.

It’s a move that provided NU security and money, and that’s about it. Frankly, it’s been an odd fit.

Nebraska football has been in various stages of construction and remodeling. It hasn’t been anything special. But neither has the Big Ten.

It looks a lot less impressive in the post-Jim Delany era.

The Big Ten’s move, particularly in light of the link between COVID-19 and the heart condition myocarditis, was not a surprise. It’s been speculated this would be the result.

Part of the appeal of the Big Ten was that it looked calculating and smart, always a chess move ahead of the rest.

Apparently that was Delany.

Now, navigating a pandemic is hard. But the Big Ten has made some strange moves of late. It shocked the other major conferences last month by announcing it would play conference games only.

Then, last week it released a full Big Ten schedule for the 2020 season. Six days later, it was over.

Then came Warren’s interview Tuesday on the Big Ten Network. It was eye-opening. Head-scratching. Certainly, embarrassing.

What changed in the last six days? Warren did not answer. Was Nebraska allowed to play non-Big Ten schools? Warren rambled something nonsensical. Again, no answer.

BTN host Dave Revsine handled the interview well, asking the same tough but fair questions once and twice. But Warren flunked the big moment.

For the past two days, a handful of Big Ten coaches — including Frost — basically challenged the league and the new commissioner. Would Warren fire back? Would he assert his position of power?

No. He swung and missed, by saying absolutely nothing.

This is a time for transparency. Specifics. Consider this: If myocarditis is tied to COVID-19 and offers a frightening prospect for athletes, why are the NBA, MLB (and soon) and NFL playing?

It’s a question worth asking. But on Tuesday, that would have been a fruitless exercise, too.

It’s not fair to compare Warren to the legendary Delany, who ruled with an old-school fist. But the former Big Ten boss also elicited a certain trust. He would do it right.

The Big Ten now resembles 14 presidents ruling the roost with Delany retired in his North Carolina cabin. And a commissioner who looks like their front man.

Not a good one, either.

If you’re Nebraska, it doesn’t conjure a lot of trust in the Big Ten. In fact, with Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan coaches also defying the Big Ten, the league looks less and less unified all the time.

If you’re Nebraska, you’re running out of reasons to be here. Especially when you don’t really have a lot in common, anyway.

NU wanted to give football every possible chance this fall, delay the decision as long as it could. That’s the approach of the SEC and ACC. NU has more in common with those leagues, and the Big 12, obviously.

You can believe the Big Ten presidents care about the well-being of student-athletes. That’s real. But believe, too, the Big Ten leaders are very much into optics and image and being on the right side of history.

And being the first league on that side of history never hurts, either.

The money is nice in the Big Ten. But you wonder how much network money will be available in a few years, amid the rubble of the pandemic. And without Delany as lead negotiator.

BTN has been good to NU, but the impact is lessened with 14 schools to show. Will NU athletics be in any shape to travel across this league’s time zones next year? These are good questions.

Wilbon, a passionate Big Ten alum, wasn’t speaking for everyone, but many in the league will share his opinion. Both NU and the Big Ten came into this marriage thinking they were doing the other one a favor. I don’t think either side is that impressed with the other. And I don’t believe either would be that upset if it ended.

That doesn’t mean it will. No one is sure what a penalty to leave the Big Ten might be; has it ever been considered? I can’t imagine.

Now put that penalty in a year when NU is facing $80 million to $100 million in losses.

It’s likely that Carter or Bill Moos will release a statement pledging allegiance to the Big Ten. And NU might have to carry on as the rebellious kid in the family.

Meanwhile, Frost’s system is a better fit in the Big 12 and NU always recruited Texas. There’s money in the Big 12, too — especially one that would add Nebraska and Arkansas or UCF. But is there interest in taking back a wayward friend?

Maybe we’ll remember this day as the end and a beginning.


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