INDIANAPOLIS – Under the cover of the southwest tunnel at Lucas Oil Stadium, as Scott Frost was leaving for the day, he and the commissioner of the Big Ten shared a moment. Kevin Warren stopped the Husker head coach for a hand shake and a brief word. It looked small but seemed maybe telling. A fleeting moment, sure, but perhaps a sign of clearer waters ahead for a program that has been looking for where it fits into the larger Big Ten landscape.
Nebraska has felt misunderstood and at times unheard by the league Warren now commands. The Huskers are still young partners in the grand scheme of things. This will be their 11th season playing with the Big Ten logo on the turf at Tom Osborne field. Leadership has changed plenty during that short time.
And Nebraska felt under the barrel last season.
From the “kick their ass out” comments in the media to the front-loaded scheduled to the constant criticism that came with little help, few could blame Nebraska for feeling on an island. The Big Ten would prefer to keep things in-house, and the Huskers had players suing the league to unseal COP/C minutes. Tensions rose.
But the hope is there are better days ahead.
Nebraska’s new athletic director, Trev Alberts, will be a key character in that story.
The former Husker linebacker cut his teeth as an administrator at UNO, where he proved time and time again capable of making tough decisions and massaging the uncomfortable aftermath. In his first big appearance on the job, Alberts appeared before media on Thursday and won people over with his honesty and measured approach to problem-solving.
Alberts hit all the right notes.
He also gave some insight into how he’ll approach his relationship with Warren, which could prove to be as important as any he’ll have as the Huskers’ AD.
“First thing I want him to know is we’re a proud member of the Big Ten, an extraordinarily proud member of the Big Ten,” he said. “I’ve already told him we’re going to do our part.”
It was in keeping with his comments at his introductory press conference back in Lincoln. The Big Ten added a Nebraska program a decade ago it thought was going to be a consistent winner. Nebraska hasn’t been that of late, and Alberts says it’s the program’s responsibility to fix that and hold up its end of the bargain.
As conference realignment chaos kicks up again—the prospect of Oklahoma and Texas ditching the Big 12 for the SEC has dominated headlines for the last 48 hours—some at Nebraska perhaps feel validated.
The university left the Big 12 all those years ago seeking a more stable environment, and it has long maintained the Big Ten provides exactly that.
Despite publicly wondering if it could play football outside the Big Ten’s guidance last fall and social media nostalgia, the Huskers haven’t seriously entertained leaving the Big Ten.
Alberts is intent on making the relationship work.
Relationships require work from both sides, though. It can’t work if the expectation is Nebraska breaks its spirit on the Big Ten’s whim.
Alberts will meet one-on-one with the league commissioner sometime in the next week.
“I also want him to know the University of Nebraska is a proud institution that has strong feelings in a lot of areas,” he said of his message for Warren. “I want to be able to have the relationship with him to be able to communicate those in a way that are respectful but yet our institution’s voice is heard. I believe wholeheartedly Commissioner Warren is interested in that.
“There’s obviously some important topics we’ll be discussing and I want to make sure the University of Nebraska’s voice and perspective is heard in this conference.”
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.