Should Nebraska leave Big Ten? Money, motivation and one way out

What is the motivation behind Nebraska’s visceral reaction to the Big Ten’s decision to cancel the 2020 college football season?  

That is the question one day after the final verdict was rendered, Nebraska offered a scathing response and Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren told Yahoo Sports that the Huskers could not play college football in 2020 and still be considered a member of the Big Ten.  

ESPN analyst Desmond Howard, a Heisman Trophy winner at Michigan, piled on Wednesday on “Get Up” and said that Warren should demand an apology from Nebraska.  

“If I’m Kevin Warren right now, I’m working on a way to get their ass out of the Big Ten,” Howard said. 

The problem is Husker Nation might want to do the same thing anyway. Is that the direction this could be headed in the near or distant future?

That’s the question that will need answered soon. Nebraska coach Scott Frost announced those intentions in a press conference Monday before the Big Ten’s final decision.  

“We want to play no matter who it is or no matter where it is,” he said. “We’ll see how those chips fall. We certainly hope it’s in the Big Ten. If it isn’t, I think we’re prepared to look for other options.”  

To be fair, Ohio State coach Ryan Day made similar comments about exploring all options with athletic director Gene Smith on Wednesday. The Buckeyes also are the flagship of the Big Ten and have been a member since 1913. They aren’t going anywhere.  

It would be hard for Nebraska to make a move. As the Yahoo Sports report notes, leaving the Big Ten means losing a $50 million revenue share. The Huskers have played football in the conference since 2011, and from a financial standpoint that partnership has helped the program since it left the Big 12.  

So, what is that true motivation?  

Is it the financial hardship that would come from missing a season? As in, would Nebraska be willing to lose that $50 million to recover something in 2020 that would help sustain the program now? 

Is that why the Huskers might entertain playing a rogue schedule within a 500-mile radius for one year? That is a chance worth taking only if it is beneficial to cut ties with the Big Ten for good. That seems like too much when everybody else in the conference is not playing.  

The back-and-forth speaks to what will be a strained relationship between Nebraska and the Big Ten — at least in the short term.  

In Howard’s laced criticism, he said that Nebraska does not have the same cachet as Notre Dame. That speaks to a Big Ten mindset that trickles down from Ohio State and Michigan and can be felt by new members. Remember, Michigan split that national title with Nebraska in 1997 when Frost was the Huskers’ quarterback. 

Penn State joined the conference in 1990. Maryland and Rutgers joined in 2014, three years after Nebraska. A cross-section of Big Ten fans would trade any three of those schools for Notre Dame in a heartbeat given the opportunity. 

So how does Nebraska really feel about the Big Ten in response?  

In nine seasons, Bo Pelini, Mike Riley and Frost have combined for a 65-50 record, with a 40-36 record in Big Ten play. That includes one Big Ten championship appearance, a 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in 2012.  

The Huskers do not play Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State every year and they have taken a backseat in the Big Ten West to Wisconsin, Iowa and, last year, Minnesota.  

In the nine seasons before that, Frank Solich, Bill Callahan and Pelini combined for a 73-44 record in the Big 12 with a 40-32 record in conference play. The Huskers made the Big 12 championship game three times in that stretch — where they lost to Oklahoma twice and Texas once.  

Would Nebraska be better off it went back to the Big 12? Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby fielded that question Wednesday.  

That is the dilemma for a program that still is trying to tap back into the Tom Osborne heyday in the 1990s. Nebraska fans have no nostalgic feelings for the Big Ten, but that divorce with the Big 12 still stands. What is the next move?  

No matter what happens, the Huskers must show they can play at a national championship level — whether in the Big Ten or the Big 12 — or they will run into the same problem in the future.

You either deal with Texas and Oklahoma or Michigan and Ohio State. All four of those programs ranked in the top 10 in revenue in 2018-19, according to USA Today. Nebraska finished No. 21.  

We’ll find out what Nebraska’s true motivation is if it follows through with plans to continue playing football in 2020, but the end game comes with one resolution.  

Unless the Big 12 is waiting with open arms, then there is no reason not to comply with the Big Ten.  

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