The Husker summer that wasn't so quiet

2014-06-12T09:37:00Z The Husker summer that wasn't so quietBy BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Four years and one week ago ... there was the strangest summer conference meeting you ever did witness.

Early June is often slow around here. It becomes an exercise in repetitiveness, with conversations about quarterback play for the upcoming fall, or rehashing some linebacker's spring that was in an attempt to project his fall that will be.

But early June of 2010 was different. It was absolutely nuts. The Big 12 meetings in Kansas City, usually made for yawning and thinking about where you should eat barbecue that night, was one of the greatest soap operas you ever will find.

Within one crazy week, Nebraska officials went from those Big 12 meetings to a memorable presentation at a Board of Regents meeting asking for a favorable vote to join the Big Ten.

Here's a rundown of Journal Star stories in that week that was...

Something's wrong here. The story from June 4:

KANSAS CITY, Mo.- You've never seen a man so anxious for an elevator to open. No wonder. What was Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe to say about a conference that Thursday seemed much closer to collapse than anything else?

Finally the bell rang, the doors opened, and Beebe was gone, a swarm of journalists left bellowing questions that would get no answer.

If only an elevator could take you away from your problems, too. Beebe apparently has some King Kong-sized ones on hand.

As league athletic directors and school presidents and chancellors huddled in meetings Thursday afternoon, a report surfaced on the Internet that, if true, would eradicate the conference as we know it.

The Texas Longhorns Rivals.com website cited anonymous sources saying the Pac-10 was looking to expand and was targeting six Big 12 schools: Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Colorado.

By the dinner hour, the Boulder (Colo.) Daily Camera seemed to confirm that the report had some merit.

Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn told the newspaper he thought the Pac-10 was on the verge of issuing invitations to the six schools.

"The longer that we were together in Kansas City it appeared that the rumor or speculation did have some validity to it," Bohn said.

With the college football world buzzing, Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott issued a statement trying to calm the waters.

"We have not developed any definitive plans," Scott said. "We have not extended any invitations for expansion and we do not anticipate any such decisions in the near term."

Whatever the case, the talk about Nebraska and Missouri potentially switching dance partners to the Big Ten was suddenly reduced to background murmuring.

And the reports certainly made for a bizarre scene at the InterContinental Hotel.

Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne walked through a crowd of reporters and told them: "The (conference board) chairman is going to speak for us. We all agreed to that. Sorry, I know you all have things to write."

UNL chancellor Harvey Perlman, who exited shortly after Osborne, joked a little with local reporters but declined comment.

Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne was followed out of the meeting room and up the stairs to the lobby by about 20 reporters.

They circled around Byrne as he tried to take his luggage from a bellhop.

Byrne, obviously uncomfortable, managed a joke: "Anybody want to pay the tip?"

He uttered very little else as questions came his way, saying once: "We're still committed to the Big 12 Conference."

Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione was asked directly if his school has been in contact with the Pac-10.

"Not yet." He paused a couple beats. "And hopefully I don't have to."

No discussions at all with the Pac-10?

"I came here to talk about the Big 12 and that's all we're talking about," Castiglione said. "That's all we've ever talked about."

The athletic directors gave some recommendations to the school CEOs on Thursday. Given that, Castiglione was asked if there was any recommendation made for all 12 schools to unify.

"Not a formal recommendation from the ADs," Castiglione said. "I think each athletic director had a chance to convey their thoughts about the future of our conference and that was great. A lot of passion about the Big 12 in that room, I can promise you that."

Anyone who said they might not stay?

"We had a chance to express our thoughts," Castiglione answered.

And were you unified?

"Everybody expressed their thoughts," he answered again.

Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds declined to comment.

Asked about the report of schools being targeted by the Pac-10, Missouri athletic director Mike Alden said: "That wouldn't be something appropriate for us to comment on. That's something we don't know about."

Beebe surfaced later in the day. He did not go to the podium as planned. He stopped in the hallway, blurting out a quick statement.

"Here's the situation," he said. "We are still in session. The board is still in session, so we're not going to have any more comments at this point."

He was followed to the elevator.

"You're not going to get anything more out of me, but thanks, I appreciate it," Beebe said.

The saga-filled Big 12 meetings conclude today. The athletic directors will be gone, but the school presidents and chancellors who votes on issues remain.

And while some ADs, like Bohn, were hinting that the end is nigh as they departed Kansas City, Castiglione was still pledging conference loyalty. He said he wasn't even aware of the report involving the Pac-10.

"But if it's anything like what has been out there previously, it just continues to be more and more conjecture," Castiglione said. "More and more guesswork. More and more stories that blossom from some type of source or other. Maybe there's a well-placed source on some of those stories. Who knows how they get started?"

Possibly because sometimes they're true.

By June 5, Dan Beebe was squirming:

KANSAS CITY, Mo.- No unity pinky swears. No Kumbaya. No tie exchanges between school leaders. Not at these Big 12 meetings.

That's not to say conference commissioner Dan Beebe didn't try his best to play the role of undaunted figurehead as he spoke about the Big 12's future Friday, a day after a hailstorm of bad press that the league might be on the brink of collapse.

After morning meetings with the conference's school presidents and chancellors, Beebe took his place before the media and spoke for more than 30 minutes. Little was revealed.

A productive week, he said. Full of candid discussions, he said. A lot of trust, he said.

Never mind Thursday's reports that half the teams in the conference are being courted by the Pac-10. Pay no mind to the constant drumbeat of speculation that Nebraska and Missouri are Big Ten-bound.

Friday, Beebe was pumping optimism. He kept talking about the process.

"I'm very encouraged by the process we've set forth to ensure the solidification of this conference," he said.

Beebe said he wasn't at liberty to discuss any deadline on when he'd want commitments from any schools being courted by other conferences.

"A process has been set," he said. "It's firm, but I'm not going to engage in what that is."

Process.

There's another conference board meeting in October, an annual occurrence. Might that be the drop-dead date for schools to say they're on board?

"I'm not going to speculate," Beebe said. "I know (when it is), but I'm not going to comment more on the process."

Beebe was asked what he thought about Colorado AD Mike Bohn saying he thought the Pac-10 was on the verge of issuing invitations to six Big 12 schools: Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and CU.

"Well, I don't blame those other conferences for looking at our institutions," Beebe said. "They're valuable institutions with a lot of great history, and tradition, and could add a lot to any conference. But I think we have a compelling case about why these 12 should stay together."

Maybe. But it should also be noted that Texas president Bill Powers, who is the Big 12 board chairman, felt compelled to skip out on the final press conference.

Longtime attendees of these meetings will tell you the board chairman always speaks to close these meetings.

Not this time.

"Travel arrangements," Beebe said. "He had to get back."

Powers has since declined comment. So did UNL chancellor Harvey Perlman.

Likely not by coincidence, most of the school presidents and chancellors departed while Beebe held most of the media's attention in a separate room.

The most significant commentary by any Big 12 school leader came in the form of a letter that appeared on Iowa State's athletic website Friday afternoon. ISU president Gregory Geoffroy and athletic director Jamie Pollard produced the letter.

"We are committed to our membership in the Big 12, and we are optimistic that the conference will remain intact," their letter stated. "However, we also recognize that the long-term viability of the Big 12 Conference is not in our control - it is in the hands of just a few of our fellow member institutions.

"Iowa State and several other members of the Big 12 Conference are especially vulnerable under some of the realignment scenarios currently circulating, particularly one involving expansion of the Pac-10."

Beebe had said a few weeks ago that he'd like to know who was "on the plane" at these meetings.

So was this week a failure? Beebe doesn't think so.

"Would I have wanted it? Yeah, I would have wanted it two weeks ago," he said. "But what I did say is that I want to put to the (conference) board an ability to have a time when we can have that commitment. And that process has been discussed and is in place."

There's that word again. Now, can the process save a conference?

By June 6, an ultimatum:

Multiple Texas media outlets reported Saturday night that Nebraska and Missouri have two weeks at the most to decide if they want to remain in the Big 12 Conference or instead entertain potential offers from the Big Ten.

Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne told the Journal Star on Saturday night that he was unaware of the deadlines presented in the stories.

"I really don't know what the final parameters are," Osborne said. "I really can't comment. The agreement when I left (the Big 12 meetings) Thursday was that (conference commissioner) Dan Beebe and (Texas president) William Powers would do the speaking."

The Austin-American Statesman cited "two highly placed officials of two Big 12 schools" who said Nebraska was told at this past week's Big 12 meetings in Kansas City, Mo., that it has until 5 p.m. this Friday to say what it is going to do.

One official told The Statesman it's possible that deadline could be extended to June 15.

Beebe told reporters after the Big 12 meetings' conclusion Friday that he wasn't going to discuss any deadlines on when he'd want commitments from schools.

"A process has been set," he said. "It's firm, but I'm not going to engage in what that is."

Osborne was asked if it was possible that a deadline was set without him knowing, given that he left Kansas City on Thursday before the school presidents' final meeting Friday.

UNL chancellor Harvey Perlman declined comment after Friday's meeting and couldn't be reached Saturday night.

"I really haven't had a chance to have an in-depth discussion with Harvey since Friday," said Osborne, adding that they've spoken only briefly since the meetings ended.

Orangebloods.com, a Texas Longhorns site that is part of Rivals.com network, reported anonymous sources saying that Nebraska is seen as critical to holding the Big 12 together by the schools determined to keep the league alive.

Orangebloods is reporting that Missouri, Nebraska and Colorado are the three schools holding up the Big 12 from moving forward as a conference.

Two sources told the website that Missouri is eagerly hoping for an invitation from the Big Ten, while Nebraska appears to be on the fence about whether to hold out for a possible Big Ten invite or move back to the table with the nine schools determined to keep the Big 12 alive.

If Nebraska were to part ways with the Big 12, it reportedly could open the door for the Pac-10 to target six Big 12 schools: Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado or Baylor.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany will meet with his conference chancellors and presidents today in Park Ridge, Ill.

Delany said a couple weeks ago that a Big Ten decision on expansion was still months away, adding that "if you think there will be any earth-shattering announcements on June 6, I don't think you'll get them."

It remains to be seen if recent news will change Delany's timetable in any way.

Osborne did hold a Friday morning meeting with athletic department staff and coaches to apprise them of the latest developments on the conference realignment front.

On Saturday night, Osborne told the Journal Star: "Eventually all the facts will come out."

On June 11, Nebraska's response:

So this is what it takes to get to the Big Ten: bags under your eyes, shrewd negotiations and a respectful silence even when everyone around you can’t keep their yaps shut.

Harvey Perlman had remained silent for weeks as speculation swirled and backroom sources floated anything and everything — sometimes taking Nebraska to task for being the bad egg that was going to cause the Big 12 to crumble.

But now, finally, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln chancellor was ready to punch back. Camera lights shining. ESPN in the house. The entire intercollegiate athletic community leaning in for a listen. Game on.

“I will today ask you to authorize the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to apply for membership into the Big Ten Conference,” Perlman told the NU Board of Regents on Friday.

Less than four hours later, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany was standing at a news conference in Lincoln wearing a red-and-white tie and an “N” pin on his suit coat.

After unanimous approval from the Board of Regents and the Big Ten’s CEOs, Nebraska had become the 12th team to join the Big Ten.

“I think for the next 50 or 100 years, Nebraska is going to make us a better conference than what we were the day before they joined us,” Delany said.

June 11, 2010. A day for the Husker history books.

But historic triumphs often don’t come without some anxious moments.

The road to Friday’s declaration was not an easy one — filled with immense speculation, a staredown with Texas and an ultimatum that Perlman and athletic director Tom Osborne ultimately just smacked like a pinata.

Just a week ago, Perlman left the Big 12 meetings in Kansas City with his peers telling him Nebraska needed to commit to the conference by Monday this week.

The Nebraska brass found this request more than a bit odd, especially because others in the Big 12 were flirting with other conferences.

“Some of the schools that were urging us to stay, we found some of them had talked to not only one other conference or two but even three,” Osborne said.

..........

Well, you know the rest.

Reach the writer at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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Steven M. Sipple

Steven M. Sipple

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