Regents approve UNO’s move to D1

By

March 25th, 2011

Lincoln, NE – The NU Board of Regents has unanimously approved UNO’s recommendation to move UNO Athletics to Division I, which includes cutting both the wrestling and football programs. At least two of the Regents, however, Chairman Bob Whitehouse and Regent Bob Phares, called on the UNO administration to “take one more long look” before making the final decisions about those existing programs.

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Update 8:10 am

A packed room greeted the University of Nebraska Regents at Varner Hall Friday morning. The Regents are hearing public testimony today on the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s controversial proposed move to Division 1.

Wrestling Coach Mike Denney sat with his team as numerous community members, alumni and student-athletes ask the Regents to save his program (Photo credit Joe Shearer/The Gateway)


The first speaker took the stand shortly after 8am. Jason Bartling says he is a UNO grad, and opposes the move. “100% of the roster of Maverick wrestling and football” are from Nebraska, Bartling said, who added he is a native of Sidney, Nebraska. “I understand the costs of taking UNO to Division 1 level,” Bartling said. But if that’s the case, “why were stakeholders and boosters not given the chance to endow their sports for future competition?”

State Sen. Tyson Larson followed Bartling. A former wrestler, Larson said the sport has given him the background and discipline to succeed in his career. Larson called out Alberts specifically, saying he has not done sufficient research on the proposal, and has seemed ill informed during his personal conversations with him. The University could have “searched for other avenues,” Larson said. But instead, “due to lack of administrative abilities, we find ourselves in the situation there are today.” Larson called on the Regents to postpone the decision until more research and public hearings can be held, and work to find a way to save “the most successful wrestling program in UNO’s history.”

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Update 8:20 am

Chancellor John Christensen and AD Trev Alberts look on as student-athletes, coaches and the alumni addressed the Regents meeting in Lincoln (Photo credit Joe Shearer/The Gateway)

Wrestling Coach Mike Denney just took the stand, speaking to representatives of his team and coaching staff who sat behind him. “You have fought the good fight,” he said. “You deserve better than this.” Calling out Alberts and long-time personal friend, Christensen, Denney asked, “Is this the best that our Athletic Director can do? Is this the best that you can do, John?”

Denney said the cutting of the wrestling program is a blemish on the new motto of UNO Athletics, emphasized by Alberts, and on display on banners throughout the Sapp Fieldhouse. “Have you inspired a “culture of excellence” by what you’ve done?” Denney asked. “The answer is no.”

As he closed, Denney turned to his players, who stood up and said the familiar wrestling chant, “Oos.”

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Update 8:38 am

Most of the testimony so far has opposed the move, but there have been a couple supporters. Rita Henry, the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs at UNO, just took the stand and became overwhelmed with emotion. “I’ve seen many changes at UNO,” she said, her voice cracking. She said while it saddens her to see the football and wrestling student-athletes left out of the move, she still believes it will be a positive change for the University.

“Division I schools attract the best students,” she said; it will increase awareness of UNO in the media and boost the school’s reputation and prestige, opening more opportunities for students in the long-term.

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Update 8:51 am

More emotional testimony at the hearing. Connie Claussen, a long-time supporter of UNO Athletics and a current Associate Athletic Director for Special Projects, just spoke in support of the move. “I’ve seen many Athletic Directors at UNO,” she said. When Trev Alberts took the job, “I didn’t know why he would want it. But what a job he has done,” she said. “He is a very, very intelligent person,” she said. “He thinks things through [with] lots of honesty and integrity.”

“I know what a difficult decision it has been for Trev Ablerts and Chancellor Christensen,” she said, and “I thank them for having the guts to do this.”

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Update 9:09 am

Several repeated complaints from those speaking in opposition this morning, primarily: insufficient research and “gaping holes” in the UNO Athletics Feasibility Report, which called for the move and cuts to wrestling and football; inequities in scholarship funds between UNO, UNL and UNK students, and a lack of inclusive conversation with coaches, boosters and student-athletes before the recommendation was made.

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Update 9:20 am

Maverick wrestler Mario Morgan said nobody, other than his teammates and coaches, congratulated his team on their National Championship win. "Thanks for the support, guys," he said. (Photo credit Joe Shearer/The Gateway)

Maverick wrestler Mario Morgan just took the stand in opposition to the move. With an impactful end to his comments, Morgan called out each of the Regents, pointedly looking at AD Trev Alberts, for never congratulating his team after they took home their third-straight national championship March 12th, the same night they found out their program was being eliminated.

Regent Bob Whitehouse thanked Morgan for his testimony, and apologized to the senior wrestler. “It doesn’t make much sense now,” he said, “But I did intend to congratulate you.”

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Update 9:50 am

Trev Alberts is currently at the podium. “Today is obviously a very emotional day,” he said. “But it’s also a day of great opportunity for UNO.”

Alberts said he was charged with the mission of bringing financial stability to UNO Athletics when he took the job as AD. “If we didn’t attain stability,” he said, “we weren’t going to have an athletic department, period.”

“Athletics is a business,” he said. “There’s nothing more uncomfortable for me than to stand here and tell you that athletics has become a business,” he said, but that’s the reality. It’s “non-negotiable” that we understand how athletics has changed, he said. UNO has “transformed itself” into a leading metropolitan university, Alberts said, and athletics must further the mission of the campus.

Alberts said as he weighed the options for UNO Athletics, the choice became clear. “There was clearly a trend of “up or out,” among other colleges, he said, and a trend of less dependence on subsidies. “Are we going to take a step backward,” and move the program to non-scholarship Division III, he said, “Or are we going to step forward and reflect the level of excellence at UNO?”

Alberts said the NCAA’s new rules on classification as Division I were critical in his decision to recommend UNO’s move. With conferences acting as the new gateways to Division I, Alberts said, “Quite frankly, we were scared.” The NCAA is trying to get rid of dual-membership institutions, Alberts said, so UNO Athletics was facing potential elimination as a primarily Division II school, with Division I hockey. “And we didn’t have an invitation” from any conference yet, he said.

That’s when the talks with the Summit League began, Alberts said, and when the invitation came, he jumped. “If you get an invitation, you better look hard and long at whether there will be other invitations down the road.”

Alberts explained the “secrecy” surrounding his plans, saying because the move depended on an invitation from a conference, he couldn’t announce his intentions to student-athletes or coaches. “What would we have then?” he asked. “All the coaches would leave, the student-athletes would leave, and we don’t get an invitation.”

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Update 10:15 am

Chancellor Christensen just closed the presentations. “I understand the passion and the disappointment for some,” he said. “But it’s my responsibility to advance the University.” Christensen said UNO Athletics cannot continue relying on University support. “The dollars are not there,” he said, “I suspect the opportunity to print money as the federal government does will not be given to me here.”

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Update 10:36 am
The Regents have begun their questioning of Alberts and Christensen. So far, each Regent has said they will support the recommendation, though acknowledging the difficulty of the decision.

Chairman Bob Whitehouse spoke emotionally, saying he will reluctantly vote for the recommendation. “This has been the most gut wrenching thing I’ve had to endure,” he said, choking up as he spoke. “I thought stem cells was bad. This has been worse for me, personally.”

“There is no one on this board that has not had a sleepless night, or read the many hundreds of emails we’ve received.” That’s what makes it so difficult to cast any kind of vote, he said, but it’s going to be in support of the University.

NU President J.B. Milliken said he supports the UNO administration in their recommendation. “I don’t know a bigger wrestling fan than John Christensen. I believe John when he says it’s the hardest decision he ever made.”

“He believes the move to Division I and the Summit League is in the best interest of UNO, and I have confidence in him.”

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Update 10:50 am

The NU Board of Regents has unanimously approved UNO’s recommendation to move UNO Athletics to Division I, which includes cutting both the wrestling and football programs. At least two of the Regents, however, Chairman Bob Whitehouse and Regent Bob Phares, called on the UNO administration to “take one more long look” before making the final decisions about those existing programs.

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Stay tuned to KVNONews.com for updates throughout the day.

Photographs for this report were provided by The Gateway.

16 Responses

  1. Matt Anderson says:

    This potential move has nothing to do with guts. It has to do with common decency. If the move is all about the money, then Trev and the Chancellor have done a piss poor job. Not only have they failed to manage the money problem, they have failed to let the boosters know of the “dire straights” that the department is supposedly in. From everything that has been reported, not one booster had been contacted. Not one was given a chance for their input.

    Want to know why? In my humble opinion it is because Trev had an agenda when he took office. He can say all that he wants about how this is a “big surprise” and how this is “difficult for him”. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen any stress in his face nor in his tone about this. It’s all a big facade and it reeks badly.

    When Rita Henry made the comment Division I attracts the best students that SLAPS smack in the face of the students that are their and to those past, present and future. How damning is that?

    When you have past athletic directors, past and current student athletes, big money supporters, state senators saying this is a bad idea, folks…it’s a bad idea.

    I sincerely hope that the regents opt to take a step back and look at this more thoroughly. This certainly seems like a rush job to me. The Summit league certainly isn’t the only Division I league that UNO could go to. Notice how Trev didn’t say that they had their choice?. Notice how fast he wants to go to this league?

    A lot of things don’t add up. Two of them are Trev and the Chancellor so willingly able to ditch two programs, one which has won more National Championships than the vaunted UNL football program in the University system.

    So, willing to throw that away, and for what? If the regents decide to accept this invitation it certainly will be a sad day for UNO athletics.

    My thoughts and prayers are with the UNO athletes and their coaches today.

    God Bless them all.

  2. GaiWai LaBudda says:

    I have a young incoming Freshman, who like many others is very disappointed in the move to eliminate Wrestling. My son has been dreaming of wrestling for UNO since the age of 6. Wrestlers all know the discipline this sport brings to the table not to mention the family ties.

    We would love to be a part of the UNO Wrestling family. I am sure I speak for alot of athletic parents who want the best for their children and UNO has a lot of good things to offer, both in and out of the classroom. Please give this matter so more thought. Look at the students, athletes, staff, coaches, money, boosters, etc.

    GO MAVS

  3. GaiWai LaBudda says:

    Just wanted to say how disappointed we are in the news to cut the wrestling program. My son, has always dreamed of wrestling for UNO. Since the age of 5 he has demonistrated great strength and discipline. Two wonderful traits for a wrestler. Now that he is a Senior and so excited about taking that next step in life. The door is shut in his face. Coach Denney is a wonderful person, coach, mentor the list is endless. The time and efforts he puts into the program and his strudents is hard to measure. I have seen first hand very sucessfuly students go on to make a great mark in the Omaha, Lincoln community due to his foundation.

    Please reconsider keeping the wrestling program. Those kids have worked so hard to get were there are today it would be a shame to see all that thrown away.

    KEEPING THE HOPE
    go mavs

  4. dan says:

    So since the booster, who’s donation was going to pay for the new UNO field house, was a football supporter and has since resigned from the athletics board and pulled his donation for the field house, will it become a ‘rink house’ and be funded by a hockey booster?

  5. Andre Morgan says:

    That is my son Mario. He is a very direct person, focused and too tbe point. I am not surprised he said what he said. He just told the truth.

    • Fred says:

      I applaud what your son said. He stared those stuffed suits down and made them feel about 2 feet tall. What he said was necessary, somebody had to do it. Very disappointed in yesterday’s decision, I hope we can still find a way to keep wrestling at UNO, and somehow eject Trev Alberts in the process.

  6. dan says:

    Sorry to post twice but I’d also like to add this story. My youngest brother (turned 12 years old on Wednesday) met UNO assistant wrestling coach Jason Brilz (who is also a Mixed Martial Artist in the UFC). He wore his favorite wrestling shirt and asked for Jason’s autograph. Jason asked him if he would be a future UNO alum for wrestling. My little brother teared up, fearing that would not be a possibility. Don’t let this happen, taking wrestling from UNO is like taking football from UNL.

    I understand letting football go for financial reasons but the hockey team has performed outside of the conference of the rest of the school for years. It was appropriate. The wrestling program is one of the lowest cost sports and the most successfull sport UNO has to offer.

  7. Foz says:

    I am still confused I thought the wrestling cut had nothing to do with money?

  8. C.W. says:

    What is so sad is that they are taking a program that is not successful and continuing it. So they think that they’ll be able to compete against the Creighton fans and supporters?! That backs up their argument about the football team and UNL. To eliminate an already successful wrestling program? I can’t believe the board of regents wouldn’t take Sen. Larson’s recommendation of postponing until further investigation is completed. I know they’ve lost a lot of support and confidence in the state of Nebraska.
    I’m ashamed of the decision and refuse to financially support UNO this day forth.

  9. Dean Rollins says:

    Moving to NCAA division one does not alway have an effect on academics. Look at University of Wisconsin Green Bay, they move up in the late 70’s if I remember right. It is still a real small school no dormitories,pretty good womens and mens basketball teams. The rest of the athletics are virtually unheard of. If notoriety in academics is what UNO is looking for they should be looking at their educational staff. For if a student wants a good job out of college they should be looking at national ratings in the specific acedimic area; i.e.math,science, teaching to include all other fields of study. Students that go to college for acedemic are not looking at a successful athletic program but one that is considered one of the best in thier field of study or some place close to home. Note MIT, Cal Sci and Cal Poly to name a few. So tell Mister Alberts and Chancellor Christensen maybe they should be firing the teaching staff if they are really looking to increase the notoriety of the school for acedemic.

    • James Reynolds says:

      Shut up Dean Rollins. The most successful and hardest working people in the world were athletes at some time not MIT or Cal Sci graduates.

  10. Matt Anderson says:

    Sorry to post twice…if this move is “all about the money”, then Trev Alberts and the rest of his staff need to reduce their salary to $1.00 to show their undying and unwavering support.

    Trev and the Chancellor got what they wanted. Let’s see now if he really has the guts to put his money where is mouth is. C’mon Trev take it like a man, lead the way, show us the leader that you think you are. $1.00 a year till the Athletic Department is on what you deem as solid financial ground. As the old saying goes…”put up or shut up”

  11. Bob Tipsword says:

    I sent recommendations of options to keep wrestling and be competitive at the D1 level to the Board of Regent members, the AD and chancellor. Look at the UNO schedule and see how many D1 teams they already compete against. Also look at the wrestling teams that go to the West Regional and see how easy it would be to form a wrestling conference, i.e. the EIWA or EWL. It doesn’t take a lot of thought to figure out a way to make it work.

    I also asked how it will be easier/less costly to make the other sports and the two new sports competitive. The Summit League only has seven schools with men’s soccer, but they average 27 per roster. The golf teams average 10. Are these revenue-producing sports?

    And, about the Summit League. I assume some of the revenue comes from success in the basketball post-season. In the last five years, the league has had exactly one representative in the NCAA tourney each year, and not won a single game. No teams have been invited to the NIT. Oral Roberts was invited to the CIT this year and lost first-round. IUPUI was invited to the CBI last year and went 1-1. It doesn’t seem to me that the other member schools have received many/any dollars from this.

    This whole situation doesn’t feel right. Someone has an agenda, and is being less than forthcoming.

  12. Shane Murphy says:

    Sitting in class reading this sick to my stomache

  13. Mavfan says:

    This has been Trev’s agenda since he started at UNO. He’s nothing but an overgrown bully. He saw a caliber of person in Coach Denney that he could never possibly be, and set out to destroy the wrestling program from the start. The person who should be leaving his position right now is Trev Alberts, not Mike Denney. There should be no place in any athletics program for someone who is as arrogant, egotistical and narcissistic as Trev Alberts is. I believe the regents will see what a mistake they’ve made, and very soon. I’ve heard from many alumni and booster who have said that they will no longer support UNO with monetary donations or attendance at sporting events. Moving to D1 DOES NOT automatically bring higher attendance nor does it bring a higher caliber of students and student athletes. I say, shame on you Chancellor Christenson, and shame on you Board of Regents.

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