Over the weekend, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) made the decision to move up to Division I in athletics. This move was expected by most people in the community. The surprise with the decision was UNO cutting football and wrestling so they could make the move.
I was surprised by the blowback on the decision to cut the two sports. Could there have been better timing, especially with UNO having just won their third national title, in a row, in wrestling?* Perhaps, but once the league extended an invite to UNO the school had to respond. If they didn’t respond right away, word would have leaked through many other outlets. Then, you’d have a real media mess.
*I think the only reason a lot of people knew UNO won their third national championship in a row was because of the announcement the program was being cut. With Husker spring football, and March Madness for Creighton and Nebraska, not to mention UNO hockey doing well, wrestling is going to be lost amidst it all.
Having lived in Omaha for almost twenty-five years, the first eighteen years living less than a mile away from UNO, I’ve never met anyone who went to a UNO wrestling meet. I’ve never met anyone who talked about UNO wrestling. I’ve never talked or thought about it. So, the outrage that a lot of people have over UNO dropping wrestling rings shallow. To me, it seems like most people just wanted to make noise. Any kind of event seems to generate comments from people online who just want to be seen and/or heard.
As far as football, UNO does have a century worth of history. Is that the only reason to keep going, because they’ve always had a team? If that’s the only reason, then I’m not sure that’s good enough. One of the biggest mistakes an organization can make is being too reliant on things that worked a generation ago, but not adapting to the changing times and culture as their organization flounders.
On most Saturdays in Omaha, in the fall, 99% of the football fans in the community are concerned about the Huskers. UNO football also takes a backseat to high-school football in the community.
As Athletic Director Trev Alberts (former Husker football great) and Chancellor John Christensen pointed out, the athletic department had been losing money for years. Keeping football while going Division I would only make things worse financially. UNO can’t print money to cover the financial losses just so it can feed the beast of football and keep up appearances. The cuts are the effects of decisions made by their predecessors. It’s not the fault of Alberts and Christensen. I applaud them for making a bold decision, with the present and future in mind, and willing to take the heat for their decision.
The economic world around us is perilous. Most people acknowledge budget cuts need to be made, but people want things to get cut that aren’t near and dear to them. If so, they get upset. I think this mirrors UNO. The budget needed to be addressed, and most people would acknowledge that. However, once the cuts were announced the fans of the football and wrestling programs were upset.
At what point do you stop sacrificing more of UNO’s academic programs to prop up its athletics that aren’t profitable? What are you saying to the thousands of students at your university, and to the community around you, when you are sinking millions of dollars into a department and not getting a return?
When hard choices must be made, you can’t please everyone. Some people try and pass the buck on decisions, leaving it for their successors.* It makes matters worse when that happens. The costs become greater then. At some point, people have to make the tough choice. At some point, you have to deal with the reality of the situation.
*Any politicians come to mind?
UNO is poised to be a perennial winner in hockey, with Coach Dean Blais, and now has the chance to be a part of March Madness in basketball. Heck, they could make the tournament before Nebraska does again.
To the student-athletes and coaches that now face an uncertain future, it isn’t fair. Thankfully, Alberts and Christensen said, and will do, all the right things in supporting those individuals.
Bold move, UNO. I like it.