LINCOLN — Nebraska’s quest to finish in the top 30 of the Learfield Directors’ Cup standings is off to another slow start.
After the completion of the fall sports calendar, NU is 96th in the national standings and 12th in the Big Ten, with all of its points coming from the Husker volleyball team. The Huskers’ other fall sports — football, cross country and women’s soccer — did not score any postseason points. NU got 73 for finishing in the regional finals of the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament, the first time since 2014 that John Cook’s squad missed the national semifinals.
Nebraska is attempting to reverse course on a downward trend of finishes in the cup, which measures the overall strength of an athletic department’s teams. NU finished a program-worst 48th last season, with the previous low of 44th coming in 2018. It’s a far cry from the regular top-10 finishes Nebraska once had in the 1990s, when the football program was running full throttle and Olympic sports — such as women’s soccer and swimming and diving — were strong performers, as well.
The athletic department is in the midst of considerable transition, as Husker Athletic Director Bill Moos hired nine coaches in less than two years — the most recent being bowling coach Paul Klempa, who succeeded the retired Bill Straub. Moos has also hired new head coaches in three major men’s sports — football (Scott Frost), basketball (Fred Hoiberg) and baseball (Will Bolt).
“I like the coaches we have,” Moos said last summer. “The ones that are new, the ones that have been here for a while, it’s just a really, really good mix. All have the same focus and understand the charge and what is expected of them in a variety of different areas, from academics, to student-athlete retention, and also the scoreboard. We can win at Nebraska. It’s been proven, and we can win right and with the right talent.”
NU wrestling coach Mark Manning, whose teams have finished in the top 10 of the NCAA championships in each of the past five years, said in an interview last week that the culture in the athletic department has improved since Moos took over for former Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst, fired in fall 2017. Eichorst was known by Nebraska coaches as more of a policymaker than a full-throated supporter of coaches.
Moos’ contract has a bonus attached to Nebraska’s finish in the Directors’ Cup standings. The first bonus band kicks in once NU reaches the top 30. The Huskers last made the top 30 in 2016 (27th), but they haven’t been in the top 25 since 2014.
Winter sports — which include basketball, gymnastics, wrestling and indoor track and field — have most recently been Nebraska’s strength.
Michigan, No. 2 nationally, leads the Big Ten. Border rival Iowa is 33rd nationally and sixth in the Big Ten after scoring points in football, women’s field hockey and women’s soccer.
Creighton is 118th nationally and fifth in the Big East after its volleyball team reached the second round of the NCAA tournament. UNO did not score any points in the fall slate.
In Division II, UNK is 59th in the standings after finishing second nationally in the NCAA volleyball tournament. In NAIA, Hastings is 27th, Concordia is 32nd, Midland is 56th, Doane is 93rd and St. Mary is 99th.