Regents approve UNO’s move to D1
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.
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.
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.”
Update 8:20 amWrestling 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.”
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.
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.”
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.
Update 9:20 am
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
Stay tuned to KVNONews.com for updates throughout the day.
Photographs for this report were provided by The Gateway.