By Nate Tenopir, Sports Editor
Someone in Omaha has to say it, Trev Alberts is doing a good job. Make that a great job.
In the last two weeks there has been a lot of talk about the dropping of the football and wrestling programs, a possible conspiracy and Alberts’ role in that supposed conspiracy. But while a court order forced UNO to release related documents, and one professor running for the Nebraska Board of Regents was playing politics, no one bothered to remember the past.
Alberts was hired in 2009, three years after the controversy that was Chancellor Nancy Belck, Vice Chancellor Jim Buck and Athletic Director David Herbster. If you don’t remember the three, here’s a quick reminder.
Belck was the one who altered an expense record. Buck was the one that used university funds for a new Cadillac, a country club membership and billed the athletic department for contributions he made to the department.
Herbster, by all accounts, did the best he could, but had to govern an athletics department more than a million dollars in debt and losing trust from the community. Herbster’s replacement, David Miller, must not have liked what he saw.
He only stayed two years before leaving for Division II Upper Iowa.
Enter Alberts. Before he was six months on the job, Alberts locked up national championship hockey coach Dean Blais, found the boosters to pay for Blais’ contract and persuaded UNO’s new hockey conference, the WCHA, into membership terms not afforded to most new institutions.
Yeah, so what? That was three plus years ago and it was just hockey, right?
Fast forward to 2012/13. A budget analysis the athletics department shows that just six years after the Belck/Buck debacle, UNO created what could be considered a balanced budget in terms of expenses, subsidies and revenue generated.
The annual operating cost of UNO sports is about $8 million. That number is supported by $3 million from the state, roughly $1.1 million from student fees and the remaining $3.9 million the department creates on its own.
What that means is UNO creates 49 percent of its sports budget. That makes Maverick athletics unique in its own conference and among peer institutions.
According to a study by USA Today, in the Summit League the average amount of subsidy for each athletics department is 71 percent. Only North Dakota State is even close to UNO, taking just 47.9 percent of their athletics budget through subsidy.
The next closest is South Dakota at 62.1 percent. The highest number comes from IUPUI at a whopping 88.5 percent based on subsidy.
In conversation with Alberts, he has said that when he took the job he was told his department gets $3 million from the state, that’s it. Rather than whine and complain and seek more, Alberts has said that his job was to succeed at that number and convince his staff and his coaches it was possible.
The more important fact for the students at UNO- Alberts hasn’t had to ask the university for more subsidies through student fees. While many schools pay for their athletics, and most often their football programs, on the backs of their students, Alberts refuses to buy into that line of thinking.
And yet we’re led to believe that the decisions to drop football and wrestling were made in haste. Or at least that Alberts and UNO wanted to have their cake and eat it too by recruiting players while possibly misleading them about their ability to actually play at UNO. If you want to blame anyone blame the NCAA.
Here’s the problem: over the past four years the NCAA has had a moratorium on reclassifying to Division I. When that moratorium was lifted in 2011, the requirement was that a school had to be sponsored by a D-I athletics conference to make the move.
In essence, UNO was a hostage to the process that the NCAA had already put in place. Try to recruit players with the adage that you may be dropping football and who do you expect to sign?
On the other hand you could recruit players any ways, then get stuck in a situation where you finally get an invitation from a D-I conference and you end up looking silly by signing players to a program you have to eliminate.
Which of these sounds like UNO had its football program in mind, either recruiting players and planning for another season, or basing all your conversations with potential recruits on a hope that a D-I invitation would come?
This isn’t that campaign from 2008. A university cannot plan its future on hope and change.
Let’s not forget that everyone, whether a football player, football recruit, wrestler, or wrestling recruit has had their education essentially paid for. UNO recognized that they put their student-athletes in a tough position.
If anyone had bothered to read the announcement that the university came to after it decided to drop football and wrestling, they might have changed their minds. Players on a football or wrestling scholarship will have their school covered by UNO for no more than 135 credit hours attempted, or five years, whichever comes first.
Those returning to UNO had their scholarships honored based on the 2010/11 contract, and incoming athletes had their scholarships honored in the manner reflected on their letters of intent.
In addition, football players on a tuition and fee scholarship were allowed to leave Omaha, pursue their sport at another school, return in Jan. 2012 and receive a tuition and fee scholarship up to 24 hours or until graduation in an undergraduate program.
Other issues related to those decisions were evaluated on a case-by-case basis. This wasn’t secret, this information was posted on the athletic department website on Aug. 22, 2011.
The Gateway is seeking further information on the contracts that were promised to football and wrestling coaches. In Nebraska, fired employees are only guaranteed a certain amount of time to have those contracts honored.
Early indications are that UNO honored those contracts until the end of academic year 2010/11. The Gateway is in negotiations to get the actual financial numbers about coaching contracts.
Long story short, UNO went above and beyond in honoring commitments to their student-athletes, potential student-athletes and, it appears, their coaching staffs. UNO professor Dr. Larry Bradley made race an issue at his press conference announcing his decision to request the documentation the law firm Husch Blackwell had already requested for their clients, former football players and football recruits.
Take a look at UNO’s roster from 2010, and the years before, and Bradley’s argument holds no weight. Bradley argued that dropping football compromised the athletic future of poor black kids from north Omaha.
He indicated that parents, teachers, youth sports programs, courts and community leaders do all they can to fight the gangs, the violence and the poverty of growing up in North Omaha. According to Bradley, by dropping football, UNO removed hope from those situations.
But recent rosters show a majority of players from Omaha did not come from the district Bradley is seeking in his campaign, District 4. Most football players from Omaha came to UNO from Omaha Burke, Westside, Millard high schools, Creighton Prep, Papillion and Elkhorn.
In addition, Bradley’s comments ignore the fact that by adding men’s soccer, poor Hispanic kids who play soccer in District 4 have the ability to play in Nebraska. Plus, UNO now has the only men’s soccer program in the University of Nebraska system.
Having soccer in Omaha opens up an opportunity to Hispanic soccer players in Nebraska that didn’t exist until a year ago.
I’m sure that Bradley has his constituents’ best interests in mind. But jumping on the bandwagon of accusing Alberts and UNO of conspiracy reeks of playing politics.
It’s time we take a step back and an honest look at what’s going on in Omaha. Trev Alberts has never made making UNO successful a stepping stone to being in charge in Lincoln.
Trev Alberts wants UNO to be successful because he wants UNO to be successful.