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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
You will never hear me say Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany isn't a smart - make that brilliant - man.
If you took all the conferences in the nation and started them at zero, three years from now Delany would have the Big Ten ahead of everybody else.
But, he says some things I don't necessarily find indisputable. Like this week, when Delany said this:
"We're not the NFL, but the NFL has a very small-market team, Green Bay, and their games are national games, and everything they do is followed. The Nebraska brand has developed in such a way as other names like Oklahoma, Texas, Southern Cal. It's one of those programs that when you put them up against a quality opponent, it's a national game."
I wouldn't put Nebraska in the top 10 national programs. Very close, yes. But not there at this moment in time. In May of 2011, I think the top 10 (in no particular order) are Alabama, Boise State, Florida, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and USC.
Michigan and Notre Dame haven't won anything of note lately, but they've got national cachet that tops Nebraska's. You go to Venice Beach or midtown Manhattan, and you'll see more people wearing Michigan or Notre Dame garb than that of Nebraska. USC is a probation-riddled program, but it's still USC unless it has a couple more forgettable seasons in succession.
Boise State is on that list only as long as it keeps winning big, and I mean big. I don't pretend Boise State has more fans nationwide than 50 other college teams, but it's a hot-button, interesting program to people right now.
Bubbling under the top 10 are Penn State, Miami (if it starts winning again, it immediately kicks someone else out of the top 10), LSU, national-champion Auburn, and Nebraska.
And after that I have (again, in no particular order) Wisconsin, Florida State, TCU, Iowa, and a few SEC teams like Georgia and Tennessee. This isn't a comparison of wins and losses, but how they move the national-interest meter at this point in time.
But back to Delany and Nebraska. He isn't right. Nebraska's national "brand," which once rivaled that of anyone in college football, isn't what it was. It's certainly substantial, but when was the last time Nebraska football was a national talk-radio topic other than when it joined the Big Ten?
The Cornhuskers' last Big 12 title came in 1999. Their last national-championship was 1997. Their record since 2000 has been good, but nothing extraordinary, and no better than Iowa's, for instance.
Nebraska football in this millennium hasn't been must-see viewing for college football fans in Washington or Massachusetts, or Pennsylvania and Indiana. It once was, and for a long time.
If that sounds like an attack on Nebraska, it isn't. This is a terrific football addition for the Big Ten, and a program that could quickly rise back to its former lofty heights if Bo Pelini is the equal and more to Kirk Ferentz and Brady Hoke and Mark Dantonio and Bret Bielema and Joe Paterno and whomever is coaching Ohio State in the future. Which is kind of a tall order, come to think of it.
I'm just saying that no matter how Delany spins it, Nebraska doesn't resonate with American football fans the same way today as Alabama or Ohio State or several other top programs, including the three Delany mentioned, Oklahoma, Texas and USC.
Now, it will be a very big deal to the nation's fans this year when Nebraska lines up against Wisconsin and Ohio State in its first two Big Ten games. It will be a very big deal when the Huskers play at Penn State and Michigan in successive weeks, and close their first Big Ten season at home against Iowa.
It makes one wonder if the 2011 schedule was drawn up to maximize the freshness of Nebraska being in the league, with all those marquee games. Nebraska doesn't play Illinois, Indiana or Purdue this season. In other words, the Huskers have the toughest schedule in the conference by far.
That could backfire against the Big Ten. If Nebraska is left wounded and wobbly by mid-November and staggers to an Insight Bowl, people may question what the all the hoopla was about when the school was added to the league.
But if Nebraska grinds out a West (er, Legends) Division title, I'll be rescinding this essay and saying the Huskers are all that and a bag of corn chips.
One more thing about Delany and Nebraska, something beautifully summarized by Sports By Brooks.
In late April, Nebraska was basically kicked out of the Association of American Universities. Every other Big Ten school is a member of that group, which basically is the best of the best.
A year ago, Delany said AAU membership was "a very important factor. AAU membership is an important part of who we are. It was an important part of who we are [when the Big Ten added] Penn State, and it's an important aspect of what makes an institution a research institution, an undergraduate school, a school that serves the public at a high level.”
Flash-forward to this week, when Delany said this in Omaha:
“It really doesn't matter. We used it and have used it a lot and it is a major association of research institutions in the U.S. and North America. It wasn't a criteria for us. We had two conversations with Notre Dame in the '90s, they're not a member of the AAU.
”Nebraska fits us in every way, it wasn't a criteria.”
That last part is true, of course. The AAU thing wasn't a criteria. The prowess and name-recognition of Nebraska football was the criteria. Nothing else.
But that AAU business sure did matter a year ago when Nebraska was in the AAU, didn't it? Because the league could get on its well-worn soap box and compliment itself on adding another prestigious academic institution to the fold.
One time, just one time, let's hear a college conference commissioner or university president stand up and say "It's about the money. It's always about the money."