Mavericks head to Division I
March 13th, 2011
Audio report by Jon Schriner
Omaha, NE – The University of Nebraska at Omaha has officially announced it will recommend to the NU Board of Regents that the UNO Athletic Department join the Summit League, a 10-team Division I conference.At a press conference Sunday, UNO Chancellor John Christensen said the decision aligns with the vision for Maverick Athletics, and is in the best interest of the program and the University in the long-term.
“What I know for sure,” Christensen said, “is that conducting our athletic department the way we have in the past simply doesn’t work. It is not going to be sustainable.”
Christensen said revenues in the athletic department are flat, and expenses grow every year. “Unless we make substantive change,” he said, “the future of the athletic department on this campus is in significant trouble.”
But the announcement comes at the detriment of two tradition-rich Maverick programs. Director of Athletics Trev Alberts said as part of the switch, the department will re-organize to align more fully with the new conference. That means the UNO wrestling and football programs will both be terminated, as sports not officially sanctioned by the Summit League. While football has a rich history at UNO, the wrestling team is one of the most successful programs in the department. On Saturday, the team brought home its third straight National Championship title.
Alberts said it was an extraordinarily difficult decision and he sympathizes with the student-athletes and the coaches who will lose their jobs.
“I’ve never been more conflicted in my life,” he said. “There’s a portion of me that could not be more excited at the opportunity, and of course, there’s a very strong portion of me that’s devastated.”
But, he said, without this dramatic shift, UNO Athletics would be broke in a matter of years. The decision to move to Division I moves UNO to a revenue-generating model, and away from its current reliance on subsidies, he said.
“It’s difficult,” he said. “People are used to doing things a certain way of doing things, and it’s hard. But I think we just reached the point where we didn’t have any options.”
Chancellor Christensen said the University will do everything possible to help the student-athletes affected by the decision to stay at UNO, or transfer to another university. “Personally, I would have avoided [ending the wrestling program] in any way possible had that been an opportunity,” he said. “I would hope they would trust that the decision was made based on facts, rather than targeting them in some way… and I would hope that they also understand we will do everything possible to try to support them should they stay, and support them should they choose to move on to play somewhere else.”
A rally is planned for later today at the UNO Sapp Field house to protest the decision, and try to save the Maverick wrestling program. Asked whether the decision could be halted if enough of an outcry broke out to save the wrestling program, Alberts said flatly, “No.”
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