The 2020 Hail Varsity Football Yearbook hits mailboxes and newsstands very soon. In anticipation, we’re sharing stories that hit the cutting room floor from our main features. One of them went back to the years surrounding Nebraska’s move from the Big 12 to the Big Ten, so let’s talk about what that looked like from an outsider’s perspective.
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When Nebraska plays Purdue to open not just its 2020 season but Big Ten play, whenever that might be as it seems things continue to change daily around the country, it’ll mark the beginning of its 10th season with the Big Ten conference.
As the story goes, in 2010 when Nebraska was internally discussing the merits of a jump from the Big 12 to the Big Ten, a package that included Texas and the Oklahoma schools were considering a move to the Pac-10. Bill Moos, now Nebraska’s Athletic Director, was then beginning as Washington State’s Athletic Director. And, having been in the conference for years after serving in the same capacity at Oregon (1995-2007), Moos was privy to the conversations being had and aware of the internal conflict over in the conference on the prairie. He knew where the bones were buried.
“Personally, from afar it looked like there was somewhat of a struggle as to who was the king in the sandpit,” Moos said in an interview with Hail Varsity for the story. “The former Big Eight powers, or the Southwest Conference powers? Though they had wonderful institutions with good leaders, I was not always sure that it was a well-oiled, trusting group.”
The break-up of the Big 12 conference in the 2010-2011 seasons and the departures of Nebraska, Colorado to the Pac-10 (now Pac-12), and then later Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, kicked off a period of tectonic shifting in college football. No conference quite as large in its magnitude as the Big 12 had been cannibalized the way the Big 12 would be. Moos called it “breaking up of the furniture” like we hadn’t seen.
Moos had and still has a great deal of respect for ADs, presidents and chancellors in the Big 12, some of whom he knows closely, and he has the same admiration for current Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby—who, in the years since conference realignment has stabilized the Big 12 by holding onto power players and adding new partners who seem a seamless fit. But, the writing was on the wall for a litany of reasons and most could see it.
What we get into in the piece is the timeline for Nebraska’s departure—announcement before the 2010 season, gone before the 2011 season—and that was influenced by conversations being had by other members of the conference with other conferences. Colorado being one of them.
The Buffs announced they’d accepted an invite to join the Pac-10 on June 10, 2010. At the time, Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott said no other invites had been issued but there were “several different scenarios” that may be pursued. In the end, the 12th member became Utah. One day after Colorado, Nebraska announced it was going to the Big Ten.
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What’s interesting is even as an outsider Moos felt then (and obviously still feels now) that Nebraska’s move was an upgrade.
“From a distance, I thought it was a wise move,” Moos said. “I felt instability was taking place in the Big 12. I felt and still do that the Big Ten is a very prestigious athletic conference but just as much so academically, and for Nebraska to be mentioned in the same breath as Michigan, Ohio State, Minnesota, you can go all through them, was a really good move.”
Former UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman said the academic piece was key for him. As an institution, Nebraska felt its identity more closely aligned with institutions in the upper midwest. But from an athletics standpoint—and conference realignment is always viewed through a football-oriented lens—Nebraska was leaving behind so much history.
“What we were missing and what I’ve tried to establish since I got here was a natural rival,” Moos said. “To break up the Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry, especially in football… There’s a good rivalry with Colorado as you know. Maybe to a bit of a lesser degree with Missouri.
“When we came into the Big Ten, we didn’t have somebody that you put at the end of the season and you look forward to as players, coaches, and fans to that game. I think we’re establishing that now with Iowa, that’s natural, but I think that’s one of the things you miss when you leave one conference that Nebraska’s been a part of for decades and go to another one.”
Thus, Moos’ interest in non-conference scheduling of former Big 12 and Big Eight opponents. Colorado was on the schedule and that home-and-home did wonders in terms of drumming up nostalgia and getting people excited for two games between two teams who won a combined 19 games in 48 tries in the last two years. Oklahoma is on the schedule in future seasons. Kansas State is on the basketball schedule next year.
“We are fortunate,” Moos said, “that we brought with us this amazing fanbase that was willing—and still is—to be patient as we adjust.”
And the adjustment period has been long, maybe not in ways fully appreciated. The piece gets into that. From a competitive standpoint, from a rivalry standpoint, Moos says the fanbase has allowed Nebraska to grow.
“They’ve been understanding … for the good of the bigger picture,” he said. “And not every fanbase would do that. They deserve to be rewarded and I feel that we’re getting close to doing just that.”
Nebraska beat every other team in the Big Ten in its first two years in the new league. How? Get the Yearbook for that story.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.