By Sam Murphy, Nate Tenopir, Contributor, Editor-in-Chief
Over the past couple of years, Division I institutions and their fans have seen more changes come about than they’re used to.
Thanks to conference realignment and the proposed idea of super conferences, college athletics has changed for good.
We’ve seen schools leave conferences they’ve been associated with for decades. On July 1 of this year, Syracuse University, a founding member of the Big East Conference, created in 1979, will leave for the Atlantic Coast Conference. Locally, we’ve seen a couple schools take part in what seems to be the new “norm” in today’s collegiate athletics.
Nebraska departed the Big 12 Conference and joined the Big 10 conference in 2011. And in a recent (and very local) move, Creighton will leave the Missouri Valley Conference after 37 years of tenure to join the new Big East Conference, made of seven current members as well as Butler and Xavier.
That’s likely just a small sample of what’s to come. Creighton’s departure from the Missouri Valley has caused some to speculate the move may affect UNO’s membership in The Summit League.
Two Summit League teams, North Dakota State and South Dakota State are already affiliated with the MVC in football. As a result, NDSU and SDSU’s future in The Summit League is somewhat up in the air.
“It’s pretty hard to predict these days what could possibly happen next,” UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts said about how the move by Creighton may affect UNO. “I don’t know if anybody would have thought, even 10 years ago, five years ago (this would happen).
“There was some talk of super conferences [and] what that might look like. But the dominoes, the movement have been a little bit more exaggerated than in the past.”
At the moment, Alberts feels UNO is in the best possible position. This summer Denver, a former member of the Western Athletic Conference is joining The Summit.
Having the Pioneers in the conference gives UNO a school with a very similar identity. Denver and UNO will also be charter members in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference set to begin play next fall.
“For me I always felt like the best possible scenario for UNO would be if an institution like Denver came into The Summit League,” Alberts said. “A hockey-playing school, we have some familiarity, a metropolitan school, looks a little bit like us, and frankly and incredible academic institution.”
“When they came into The Summit League it was a really great find for us. I think they’re committed to The Summit League.”
Although it seems more changes may be on the horizon, Alberts said his initial reaction to the move by Creighton wasn’t one of concern. While it’s true both UNO and Creighton have made similar moves within the last two seasons, Alberts said they were made for very different reasons.
“I think the athletic department is important, but we were pretty clear in our move. It was an institutional decision,” Alberts said. “Our institution had evolved academically. I think a lot of those other schools that have made some moves, they might have been somewhat athletic department-centric.”
In terms of worrying about how Creighton’s move may have a domino effect, Alberts said the thought hadn’t crossed his mind.
At the moment, UNO athletics is all about directing its attention inwards. With a new arena in the planning and a new soccer field set to open this fall, Alberts said UNO is more concerned about its own development than anything else.
“We think when the new arena comes online it will certainly be a financial benefit, help us grow our programs and put us towards a path of building even further,” Alberts said.
Plus, regardless of what else may happen in conference realignment, Alberts said UNO feels like it has found a home as a member of The Summit League.
“We feel very, very comfortable in The Summit League,” Alberts says. “We’ve only been in there one year, but I think the thing we feel good about (is) we like those institutions. We know them well. They have a similar commitment that we do, a similar mission.”
Alberts also feels fortunate to be heading the athletic department of a university in a community like Omaha.
“We’re in our second year of our transition. We’ve got a lot of progress to make,” Alberts said. “The thing we feel good about is if we weren’t located in Omaha, Nebraska I think we’d be a little more concerned.”
“I think a school like us that’s making the transition (to Division I), located in Omaha, we’ll have a home, we’ll have a spot in a great community and we’ll have a great university surrounded by an incredible business community that is very strong,. Understanding, predicting or strategically placing yourself…I would say is very difficult at this point.”