CHICAGO — When Nebraska got its invitation to join the Big Ten, a major selling point for leaving the Big 12 was a better “fit and feel” with its new cluster of schools.
Husker Athletic Director Tom Osborne said the collegial feel at this week's Big Ten spring meetings offered positive confirmation that NU will like its new home.
“You have the general feeling here that people are trying to do their best for the collective good,” he said Wednesday. “There's not a lot of one-upmanship or somebody out trying to gain an advantage.”
Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini echoed those feelings.
“It's a very classy conference,” Pelini said. “I've enjoyed working with all the new Big Ten people. It just exudes class, and it's great to be a part of.”
Commissioner Jim Delany said he was pleased to begin work with Nebraska, which officially becomes a member July 1.
“It was great,” he said. “Having them here added an interesting and fun feel to it.”
Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta said he liked having Osborne — a former coach, former U.S. Congressman and current A.D. — in the meetings.
“We're picking Tom Osborne's brain just because of his overall experience, not just the past few years,” Barta said. “Asking his perspective in how things worked in another conference is valuable.
“I try to pick things going on around the country and see what is best and then apply it to our situation. Take a little from everyone. So we've enjoyed having Tom as part of the conversation.”
During the meetings, as the NU group learned quickly, Delany is in charge.
“Jim is the center of the agenda,” Osborne said. “He's a very intelligent guy and knows a lot about the issues.”
Among the issues of interest to Nebraska, Iowa and other Big Ten fans discussed during 2½ days at the Palmer House were the sites of future championship events and the level of interest in moving to a nine-game conference football schedule.
The athletic directors discussed, but didn't act on, Tuesday's presentations from Indianapolis and Chicago for hosting future football championship games and men's and women's basketball tournaments.
“Both were very good,” Osborne said.
But Indianapolis created a “wow” factor by including Indiana Gov. and possible presidential candidate Mitch Daniels; Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian; and Indiana Pacers executive Clark Kellogg.
“Indianapolis was very well-organized,” Osborne said. “It was impressive that they had Mitch Daniels here, right in the middle of presidential issues.
“But there were intriguing things about Chicago, too.”
Delany said he hopes to have a title-site proposal ready for the league's presidents to vote on when they meet in early June. The championship events for the coming season are all in Indianapolis.
Of the two cities that bid, the football title game would be indoors in Indianapolis (Lucas Oil Field with a retractable roof) or outdoors in Chicago (Soldier Field).
“We've been through that kind of stuff before,” Osborne said with a grin, recalling some Big 12 votes. “I've got outvoted 11-1 on these kind of deals, so it might be 11-1 again.”
Pelini said the football coaches as a group didn't have strong feelings on indoors or outdoors.
“We're used to playing in the elements, so it doesn't matter to us,” he said. “I think it's a bigger issue in southern conferences.”
The issue of playing eight or nine conference football games also drew heavy discussion, even though no change is expected until 2017 when league TV contracts are retooled and schools have time to clear some nonconference dates.
The coaches, Pelini said, want it to stay at eight.
“We think it's important we do that,” he said. “As coaches, we're pretty unified. Administratively, it's probably more split.”
Delany offered a strong hint on how the league might go when he said “the fans like it and television likes it.” So do Delany, because it offers more premium games, and the athletic directors, who struggle to find decent nonconference foes.
Pelini said he felt his new coaching comrades worked him into the meetings seamlessly.
“I knew a lot of the coaches already,” he said. “There are a lot of good guys. I look forward to the challenges that lie ahead. Overall, I think it was a good first experience here.”
“We're not voting members yet, so we thought it was best we do some listening,” he said. “But they've been really good about asking for our input.”
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