By Zane Fletcher
As long as recent memory reaches, the University of Nebraska at Omaha has existed as little more than a third wheel to Creighton University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Whereas UNL has a rich football past, in addition to strong historical success in many other sports, and Creighton has found a recent winning tradition in basketball, UNO has not enjoyed quite the same notoriety, due in large part to the lack of visibility inherent in competition at NCAA Division II.
With UNO’s recent four-year transition to Division I now complete, the Mavericks’ first year of full eligibility stands as a testament to the athletic program’s growing success, support and influence in the area.
On the surface, the completion of the transition means quite a bit for Maverick athletes: they now are able to see the fruits of their labors, be it championships, records, and the like. With so many winning programs in the last few years – such as UNO baseball dominating the Summit League, and a surprisingly strong men’s soccer program – it will be satisfying for athletes, coaches and the UNO community to finally have a chance to play for something more.
Yet beyond the tangible aspect lies one more meaningful to UNO, both in and outside of athletics – exposure.
It is perhaps redundant to talk about the kind of exposure that Division I athletics brings to a school. The move to the preeminent college sports division for all sports (except hockey, which has competed at Division I since the team’s inception in 1997) allows UNO greater opportunity to push its branding to the masses – marketing heaven. Following that path of logic: greater exposure leads to greater brand recognition, which in turn leads to a more desirable school, which leads to a higher caliber of students in addition to higher quality student athletes.
UNO has worked hard towards this opportunity. The ceaseless effort of Athletic Director Trev Alberts has placed UNO in a position to expand not only athletics, but academics and prestige as well. The lasting ramifications of this shift will place the university in a position to control their own destiny moving forward. Whereas in the past UNO has been mired in mediocrity for recent history, this advancement in athletics opens new doors, new opportunities for advancement in other facets of the university’s function.
As Omaha enters its first year as a full-fledge Division I university, keep in mind the athletic possibilities, but also remember the big picture. This is a turning point for the school, a step in the right direction and a time that will be remembered in UNO history forever.