Does Nebraska Want a Mulligan on Move to the Big Ten?

By Geoff Ratliff

This probably isn’t what Nebraska had in mind. Amid the chaos and confusion that was/is the Big 12 Conference, University of Nebraska officials surely envisioned calmer waters when they made the decision to leave their long-time home and join the Big Ten  for the 2012 season, and who could blame them. The Big Ten hadn’t added a new team since Penn State joined prior to the 1990 season, a twenty-one year run of conference stability, unheard of, given the growing popularity of conference musical chairs. In addition to being one of the country’s more stable conferences, the Big Ten also had a reputation of being one of the cleanest. Aside from the relatively minor baggage that Jim Tressel brought with him from Youngstown State, and some minor infractions for Michigan under the brief Rich Rodriguez era, the conference had been home to some of the cleanest and most well respected football programs in the country. That’s undoubtedly what Nebraska thought they were buying into.

All that has changed over the past couple of seasons however. In addition to the minor rules infractions committed by Rodriguez while at Michigan, the Big Ten has been rocked by two major scandals in less than twelve months, first at Ohio State with the “Swag for Tats” issue that got Jim Tressel fired, and now with the allegations of rape against former Penn State assistant Jerry Sandusky that have resulted in a cleaning of house at the school, including the President of the University and legendary football coach Joe Paterno. While the three incidents have almost nothing in common, it has been quite an embarrassing run of negative press for some of the Big Ten Conference’s premier programs (And this is without even mentioning fairly recent scandals in Big Ten basketball programs with the 2008 firing of Indiana Head Coach Kelvin Sampson, and the Ed Martin investigation that the University of Michigan is dealing with until 2013). It’s enough to make one wonder if the storm has passed or if this is just the latest in a string of bad luck for the conference.

Of course none of this directly affects Nebraska quite yet. No one will hold the indiscretions of other schools against their reputation, and the main motivation for leaving – additional revenue generated by the Big Ten’s television contracts – will not be jeopardized either. University officials expressed a number of concerns for fan and player safety heading into today’s visit to Happy Valley amidst the Paterno fall out. Those concerns turned out to be exaggerated as Penn State students have thankfully chosen to focus on supporting their team as opposed to punishing the visitors as a symbol of something completely unrelated to them. Still, University officials have to be suffering from at least a little bit of buyer’s remorse right? Uh, no.

The Ohio State and Penn State scandals in particular are bad states of affairs for both schools, albeit for very different reasons. However, the Big 12 Conference is still a mess as they try to pick up the pieces from the recent defections of Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC along with the uncertainty of when exactly West Virginia will be allowed to leave the Big East and accept their invitation to join the conference. Even if West Virginia is allowed to join TCU as new members in 2012, the conference is still left two teams short of being able to host a lucrative conference championship game, and all semblances of geographic consistency is rapidly disappearing.

There is no doubt that Nebraska is not even thinking about what might have been had they remained in their previous home. They just better hope that they are immune to whatever it is that has recently plagued other Big Ten Conference titans.

Contact Geoff at geoff@popflyboys.com and follow him on Twitter @snglemarriedguy

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