Where do we go from here?



This story is the second in a two part series about the athletic department’s decision to drop the football program. The Gatewayhad the opportunity to interview three players three days after the announcement was made.

Grant Otten, Justin Coleman and Zach Ruiz, three former UNO football players, have each been affected by the Athletic Department’s decision to drop their sport. All three underclassmen were in the middle of their football careers with the Mavs.

For each, many of the details on the move and the reasons for dropping their program remain rather murky.  As they sought out their coaches in the hours and days following the announcement, they met the same level of confusion and disappointment.

“I knew as much as my individual coach did when I talked to him on the phone the next day,” Otten said.  “And he found out after I did.  He found out at about 2:30 in the morning, I think I found out at 1:00 [a.m.] or something.”

There was little the Department could do to avoid the elimination of football, according to the explanation given by Chancellor John Christensen and Athletic Director Trev Alberts. The most severe threat was UNO’s noncompliance with Title IX.

As part of Title IX, schools are required to give the same percentage of scholarship and grant-need dollars to female athletes as there are in the university’s general population.  Thus, if over 50 percent of the University’s student body population is female, then more than 50 percent of scholarship and grant-need money is required to go to female student-athletes.

UNO hasn’t been keeping up that trend, though the University has been free of NCAA review. It has been able to fulfill the second condition of Title IX by continuously adding women’s sports.

However, the last time a women’s sport was added at UNO was in 1997. During the March 13 press conference, Alberts made a point of emphasizing that the elimination of football also eliminated UNO’s problems with Title IX.

Going from Division II to Division I allows for 63 football scholarships as compared to 36. For UNO to remain competitive in football would mean adding 27 more scholarships which would further the University’s non-compliance with Title IX.

That may have prompted a closer look by the NCAA.  In its current form the school may not have been allowed to make the move or would have suffered a probationary period once the move was made.

To counter that, Alberts said UNO could continue to add more women’s sports.  Yet, since the UNO Athletic Department was not financially stable in its prior form, adding more programs would have only worsen the problem.

Despite the reasons and explanations behind the move, it’s still a lot to try and make sense of for those most affected.

“How are we so out of line with that compared to other schools?” Coleman said.  “It seems like we have more female [sports] because we don’t have men’s track.  So it doesn’t make sense to me that other schools are fine.”

Although the players find both the decision and way it was made equally frustrating, they are more  worried about what happens now. The players had planned on stepping into bigger roles on the football team next season while advancing closer toward a college degree.

“We’ve all been here for over a year now, so we’re starting to get comfortable with the city of Omaha,” Otten said.  “Now you just got to go somewhere and start off new.”

That process of starting anew overwhelms Otten, Coleman and Ruiz.  Do they take a chance at a new school and try to earn their way onto the playing field for a year or two? Or do they stay at UNO and finish a degree, ending their football careers?

“Some people only have a year left so they don’t want to just go somewhere and not play for a year,” Otten said.  “But I think a majority of people want to find somewhere to play.”

When asked what schools the three have been in contact with, Otten said “40 million.”  The process of finding a new home while balancing off-season workouts and classwork wasn’t something any of them expected at any point in their career.

“It really is ridiculous,” Coleman said.  “I don’t know that there’s ever been a situation like this but all the schools around here are just feasting.”

Phone calls from area coaches have been nearly continuous, according to Otten.

“We’ve all been getting calls non-stop since Monday night at least,” Otten said.  “I didn’t start getting calls really until Monday at 7 p.m. then I’ve been getting calls non-stop. I’m pretty tired at this point…talking to coaches and stuff.  I woke up today and I had five missed calls and hadn’t even started my day yet.”