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June 11, 2010

Nebraska finds right fit in Big Ten conference

Mike Babcock
HuskerIllustrated.com magazine staff

Bo Pelini's answer came as no surprise. He's focused on the here and now.

So even though the plan is for Nebraska to begin competing in the Big Ten in 2011, Pelini is looking no further than the upcoming season, the Cornhuskers' last in the Big 12.

That was his response to a question during Friday's news conference to announce Nebraska's move to the Big Ten. He also was asked his feelings about setting traditions aside.

"I'm not a real emotional guy," Pelini said with a smile and a nod.

Not "emotional?" Then why the laughter as he walked from the podium?

Maybe "not sentimental" was what he meant.

Whatever. Who better to address the issue of Nebraska's joining the Big Ten than Pelini, a Youngstown, Ohio, native and Ohio State grad, Class of 1990?

Oh yes, he also got his coaching start as a graduate assistant at Iowa.

You might even say Bo's going home.

Of course, he's been at Nebraska for only three football seasons, the first as defensive coordinator and the last two as head coach. So setting aside tradition isn't as big of a deal to him.

The situation is different for Athletic Director Tom Osborne, however. He grew up in the state and was a graduate assistant on Bob Devaney's first staff in 1962. "There's a little bit of nostalgia because you realize some of the history's going by the wayside," said Osborne. "But for the long-term trajectory of the athletic program and the university, this is really an important day."

Tradition or not, Nebraska had to look out for its own interests in the context of unmistakable uncertainty regarding the long-term viability of the Big 12 Conference.

"Life goes on," Osborne said. "It isn't that we weren't sensitive (to tradition). Believe me, I agonized about this."

But he and Chancellor Harvey Perlman concluded "this probably wasn't going to hold together."

The truth is the Big 12 had become dysfunctional, if it ever had the cohesion, the shared culture among its members, necessary for the conference to survive, much less thrive.

Osborne and Perlman never said that. Their comments about the Big 12 were complimentary, devoid of animosity. Their decision to leave for the Big Ten was practical not personal.

Nebraska definitely will fit the Big Ten culture.

"That's one thing I mentioned quite often was culture today when I was talking, and I just think that it's a comfortable fit," Osborne said. "It doesn't mean that we're going to agree 100 percent of the time, but I do think that there's a lot of similarity, an emphasis on work ethic, a lot of people are fairly blue-collar, pretty good values throughout the Midwest. So I think that's going to help."

The Big Ten did its due diligence before accepting Nebraska.

"I think (Commissioner) Jim Delany is a really bright guy, and when we met with him a week or so ago, I was impressed by the fact he said, 'You know, we've seen so many conferences just kind of get smashed together without any preparatory work, any idea of how you're going to merge these cultures or these philosophies,' " said Osborne. "And he said, 'This is a big deal, and the reason some of these don't work so well is because that forethought and that preparation didn't occur.'

"So he's sincere. He wants to make sure our fans and our people really get to know more about him, get to know more about the Big Ten, and he's going to try to make it work."

Delany was right, said Osborne, "that sometimes the reason conferences come apart is you assume everybody understands each other and you assume the culture's common, and all of sudden you get thrust together and you realize it really isn't the way you thought."

Delany came to Lincoln for Friday's announcement. And he was impressive, all right.

He had a block-N pin on his lapel. He wore a red and white striped tie. And he was conversant with Cornhusker football history. He also was focused on the here and now.

"Fit is very important," he said.

Nebraska is a good fit for the Big Ten, whether or not the move elicits emotion from Pelini.

"You would've got the same response if we joined the NFL," said Perlman.



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