Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Osborne talks B1G, playoff and, yes, unis
By Adam Rittenberg
LINCOLN, Neb. -- As of 2:15 p.m. Tuesday, the door to Tom Osborne's office hadn't been broken down.
That didn't mean Osborne, Nebraska's athletic director and former football coach, wasn't being bombarded with feedback on the team's decision to wear an alternate uniform, which Osborne described Monday as "futuristic," for one home game this coming season. While most Huskers players and adidas reps are thrilled, there's a portion of Big Red Nation that has a different view.
"A lot of people in this state are very traditional," Osborne told ESPN.com. "We're going to try it for one game. ... Some young people and some players and some recruits kind of like it. Probably most of our traditional fans aren't going to be too thrilled."
Tom Osborne and Nebraska have adjusted well to their first season in the Big Ten.
Nebraska is following the trend of alternate uniforms around college football. A new-age team, Oregon, is credited with launching the fad, but tradition-rich programs like Michigan and Ohio State have donned throwback unis in recent years. Michigan State wore a special uniform for its game against Michigan last year.
Nebraska's getup appears to be a nod to the future, but some will undoubtedly see it as a slight to its past.
I tend to agree with ace columnist Tom Shatel on this. It’s fine for one game, as long as Nebraska doesn't go too far (which it won't). Fans don't like to think their program has to follow a trend, but college sports are big business, and for Nebraska, adidas pays a lot of the bills and can call the shots.
While I had to ask Osborne about the unis, I was much more interested to chat with him about bigger-picture topics relating to Nebraska, the Big Ten and college football. The 75-year-old is as sharp as ever and had some interesting thoughts on the state of the game.
Here's some of what Dr. Tom had to say:
Nebraska's first full year in the Big Ten has gone well according to Osborne, who called commissioner Jim Delany's leadership style "very inclusive." He added, " There are always concerns about individual needs, but I see a difference in what we experienced before [in the Big 12] in that people are willing to give a little, sacrifice a little, for the welfare of the whole. That bodes well." He called the Big Ten Network a major asset, particularly for recruiting.
Osborne likes the idea of playing playoff games either on campuses or in other regions than just the major bowl sites (Miami, New Orleans, Glendale and Pasadena). "It's something that would benefit your fans, and that helps the atmosphere," he said. "And it certainly would help the teams from the northern part of the country.”
Osborne said the proposal to increase bowl eligibility from six wins to seven wins would be "a step toward trying to eliminate some of the less relevant games." But he added that any type of playoff system, even the current BCS structure, diminishes the bowl system to some degree. Asked about BCS bowl access and the increase of unattractive matchups, he talked about taking the top 10 teams and assigning them to the big bowls, regardless of conference affiliation. "When you tie in conference champions, sometimes you get a conference champion that doesn't have much national appeal and might not have a very good record," he said. "That can throw a team with one loss in with somebody that's got three or four losses. ... I'm in favor of protecting the top 10 ranked teams, irrespective of what conference you're from. That may not play real well with a lot of the conferences, but usually the major conferences are going to have at least one [top 10 team]."
I asked Osborne about the Nebraska football brand, which was at its peak during his last years as coach in the mid-1990s, when the Huskers claimed three national titles (1994, 1995, 1997). Nebraska is still seen as one of four brand-name programs in the Big Ten -- Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State being the others -- but the team, while winning 38 games the past four seasons, hasn't appeared in a BCS bowl game since the 2001 season. "The thing that enhances [the brand] is winning," Osborne said. "It wouldn't hurt to have a national championship in football or one of our major sports, baseball. We're pretty good in a lot of things. We've won three Big Ten titles so far this year, have a chance to win two or three more this spring. But certainly a championship in football would help us." And how close is Nebraska in football? "They're pretty close," he said. "I think they'll have a good chance next year."
Osborne is "a little bit" surprised the Big Ten hasn't won a national title in a decade. He talked about the locations of the national title game, all well outside the Big Ten footprint, and talked about how hard it was for Nebraska to beat Miami in the Orange Bowl, the Hurricanes' home stadium (Nebraska went 1-3 in those games). He also talked about how the Big Ten has been stricter than some leagues about oversigning. Asked about the SEC and other conferences trying to rein in oversigning, Osborne said, "There's concern about it. But if you say you can't sign more than 25 but midyear signees don't count, you're still leaving the door open."
Osborne likes the Big Ten's new partnership with the Pac-12, billed as a brand-strengthening alternative to expansion. He also thinks realignment fever will die down for a bit. "The time where major disruption can occur is when you have television contracts are up for renewal," he said. "That's when people can start looking toward greener pastures sometimes. So we'll see how things turn out over the next two, three, four years."
Osborne also weighed in on Nebraska coach Bo Pelini and his development in the role. Pelini is 39-16 at Nebraska. "Sometimes people point out a specific event on the sideline or something, but he has matured in terms of his sideline demeanor," Osborne said. "He's always been well-respected by the players. They seem to like to play for him. Of course he's an excellent defensive coach. He understands offense from the standpoint of defense, which is a good way to understand it."