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Anyone fortunate enough to hear Tom Osborne’s views on college football Friday on national satellite radio couldn’t help but pick up an underlying drift from the two announcers who were interviewing him – Charlotte-based Mark Packer and Dan Hawkins, the former head football coach at Boise State and Colorado. In interviewing Nebraska’s Hall-of-Fame coach, both made constant references to show their respect for Nebraska’s athletic director during a 15-minute College Sports Today segment on Sirius XM’s Channel 91. For fans who prefer highlight remarks, we offer a few off the top here, but encourage N-Sider readers to get the full context of the interview. Here are Osborne quotes from Friday’s interview:
On the state of the union in college football: “I think most everybody in college athletics would like to see some decisions made (in next four to six weeks) and some stability arise out of all this.”
On conference realignment: “I think some of this is maybe a little overblown.”
On conference-first considerations in a proposed four-team playoff format: “You probably have to make some allowance for some other folks besides major conference champions.”
On possibilities other than a four-team playoff: “There’s been renewed interest apparently in a plus-one formula (adding a championship game after all bowl games have been played) because as people begin to look at the four-team playoff, they’re coming to realize that it’s not as simple as everyone thought at one time.”
On the Bowl Championship Series and the likelihood of controversy: “In a way, the BCS has served its purpose, but there has always been controversy. I think people today are saying ‘You know, this four-team playoff will help resolve some of the conflict,’ but my feeling is that almost every team ranked in the top 10 or close to it will have some argument about how they should be one of those four teams, and you will not find that there will be less controversy.”
On primary concern about a playoff system: “You diminish the importance of the regular season, and right now the regular season is very popular. College football has never been more popular, and attendance has never been better.”
On ramifications of a playoff: “We’re a bit uneasy as to where this thing is going to head. There will be a clamor for an eight-team playoff and then a 16-team playoff and you have to worry about the student-athletes.”
In Friday’s interview, Osborne shared his thoughts about Nebraska splitting a 1997 national championship with fellow unbeaten Michigan and how the Huskers would have preferred to play unbeaten Penn State in 1994 instead of playing Miami in Miami. Osborne answered questions in his even-keeled yet meticulous style, prompting repeated references that showed respect for him as a man, a coach, a Congressman, an athletic director and a mentor to his players. Here’s a full transcription of that interview:
Mark Packer: It’s been an honor watching him. In all almost every facet of life, very successful … always handles himself with class, and it’s great having him on the show, Dr. Tom Osborne.
Dan Hawkins: I’m down on one knee, Coach. I’m genuflecting while I talk to you. That’s how much reverence I have for you.
Coach Osborne: Well that’s unusual, and I appreciate that. (amidst laughter, Packer tells Hawkins he can “get up off the floor now.”)
Packer: I don’t know where to start with you because it’s just crazy. In all the years that you have been involved in college athletics in some way, shape or form, have you ever seen it so bizarre? They’re changing the landscape almost every day and college athletics is about as wacked out as I’ve ever seen. Have you ever seen anything quite like it?
Osborne: I would say that at least the last 2 ½ years have been very volatile, and this year with the proposed four-team playoff and the possible jockeying within conferences makes for a very unstable situation. I think most everybody in college athletics would like to see some decisions made and some stability arise out of all of this.
Packer: So what do you think ends up happening here? We’ll probably get an answer here in the next two or three weeks.
Osborne: I think as far as conference realignment, I think some of this is maybe a little overblown. I hear about Clemson and Florida State talking about possibly going to the Big 12, and I would think that may not happen, but it’s still possible. Certainly the Big East is in a difficult position there, particularly with the announcement of the added bowl game between the SEC and the Big 12. The question is where their champion would go. There is some nervousness. I would think in the next couple of months we’ll have a better picture and a better idea of how it’s all going to shake out.
Hawkins: Coach, when it does shake out, will there still be that de-facto BCS and non-BCS layers in there between the upper crust and the middle crust – what’s your thinking there?
Osborne: I think some of that depends on how the four teams are selected. If you just go with the highest ranked four teams, you’d have to think Boise and schools like that are still in play. If on the other hand you interject conference champions into that mix and say at least the three highest ranked conference champions would be in there and then the possibility of a fourth team that’s the next highest ranked or an Independent, such as Notre Dame, you probably have to make some allowance for some other folks besides major conference champions. But nobody knows right now how that’s going to shake out. There’s been renewed interest apparently in a plus-one formula because as people begin to look at the four-team playoff they’re coming to realize that it’s not quite as simple as everyone thought at one time. You have the controversy of whether you have the home-field advantage for the Nos. 1 and 2 teams and the 3 and 4 go to those home venues or whether you play within the bowl system or you have neutral sites or how the revenue is going to be split. So all of those things I think have caused people to think a little bit about it and say: ‘Well, maybe we better stick with the old system and just go plus-one’, so who knows what’s going to happen? I think that within the next four to six weeks, we’ll have a clear idea of what’s going to happen.
Packer: Coach, you’re such a humongous figure within college football and college athletics. When you were in the heyday as a head coach – and I know you’re always worried about hey we have a great team and let’s go win championships and if it falls into place and you win a national championship. I use the example of what you did to Miami down in the Orange Bowl years ago and to this day, it left an impact on me that we’re here to win this game (referring to Nebraska’s 31-30 loss when a two-point conversion failed in the final minute), and you didn’t win a championship. But did you ever think that as a head coach at Nebraska that we would be in a situation we’re in now where we’d be talking about a playoff in college football?
Osborne: Well, I wasn’t sure. There’s always been that conversation. I know in 1997, we were in a difficult situation. We were undefeated, and Michigan was undefeated, and we very badly wanted to play Michigan and we were pretty much a free agent and able to move at that time, but Michigan had contractual obligations with the Rose Bowl. So as the champion in the Big Ten they had to go to the Rose Bowl and they couldn’t’ play us. We weren’t allowed to go to the Rose Bowl at that time. I think those kinds of scenarios led to the BCS and the desire to get 1 and 2 together. And for the most part, over the years, when you look at it, the 1 and 2 teams have played for a national championship. You avoided that dilemma where you had undefeated teams, and, of course, in 1994, the same thing happened. Penn State was undefeated, and we were undefeated. We beat Miami in Miami. Penn State beat Washington State, and we were voted the national championship. But again, we would have much rather played Penn State, and that would have been much more definitive. So, in a way, the BCS has served its purpose, but there has always been controversy. I think people today are saying ‘you know, this four-team playoff will help resolve some of the conflict,’ but my feeling is that almost every team ranked in the top 10 or close to it will have some argument about how they should be one of those four teams, and you will not find that there will be less controversy. The concern that many of us have is as you move toward a playoff system that you diminish the importance of the regular season. Right now, the regular season is very popular. You know college football has never been more popular. Attendance has never been better, and as you know from looking at the NFL, sometimes if you have a playoff, you can lose five or six games and still get into the playoff, and some of those games late in the season with a team that’s already clinched home-field advantage, they don’t even play their best players to try to win the game. So we’re a little bit uneasy as to where this thing is going to head. There will be a clamor for an eight-team playoff and then a 16-team playoff, and you have to worry about the student-athletes. How many games are they going to have to play and still go to school. So there are a lot of things in the mix and no one has a clear answer right now.
Hawkins: Coach, just transitioning a little bit. Obviously you’ve won a bazillion games, but like Pack said, you did it in the right way, and you’re such a classy guy. Can you just talk about the role that you played and wanted to play as a mentor and a father figure and how important that is in a coaching realm?
Osborne: Well, I just spoke at a (high school) coaching convention down in (Dallas) Texas yesterday, and I think the theme of the conference was appropriate. Essentially, as we’ve seen, there’s more and more dysfunction in our culture. More and more kids are growing up without fathers, and as a result, I think the coach can play a fairly unique role. I think it’s around 40 or 45 percent of our young people are growing up without both biological parents. We have over 25 million fatherless kids in our country, and I guess I saw that evolving over my 35 years in coaching. So obviously, sometimes people say athletics builds character, and in the right circumstances it does. But it can also be very destructive if a coach is a poor role model or if the coach de-humanizes or mistreats his players or uses players to accomplish his or her own goals instead of being concerned about players’ welfare. It does really play out in some very destructive scenarios. So the coach really has a critical role in our society and I think it’s become ever-more important. Some coaches pull it off well and some probably not so well.
Packer: Coach, one more question. What was the biggest thing you learned about your athletic department playing in the Big Ten for the first year? What was something that maybe surprised you or something that you didn’t expect in the Big Ten, just out of curiosity?
Osborne: Well, I’d say from a pure athletic point of view, we found that the level of coaching was very good, particularly in basketball. It was kind of different. The Big 12 maybe had more high draft choices in the NBA, but in the Big Ten, teams were very hard to beat because they were so well coached. They were generally older teams where a lot of kids had redshirted … a lot of seniors, high skills, great shooters, great defense … some very good athletes but maybe not as many of them. As far as football goes, (the Big Ten has) a little different style … fewer teams that spread you out with wide receivers and cause you to play nickel and dime maybe three quarters of a game … probably had more big strong linemen, particularly on defense … maybe a few bigger backs, so it was an adjustment time and yet very interesting, and we’ve been treated well in the Big Ten. We enjoy the culture, and we enjoy the leadership of Jim Delany. We appreciate the Big Ten Network, so we feel it’s been a good move, but there has been a learning curve.
Packer: Let me say this, and I mean it with all sincerity. We get a chance to talk with a number of great folks, and you are one of them … class personified from day one and continued success in Lincoln.
Osborne: Thank you and thank you guys for calling.
Hawkins: (after Osborne was no longer connected): I’m a better man for having talked to him.
Packer: I just think he is good folk. I don’t care if you don’t like Nebraska. That’s all fine and good as far as I’m concerned. But that guy right there has always had it in perspective from the get-go, whether it’s winning a championship or whether he’s getting his hat handed to him – which didn’t happen very often – but he’s always even-keeled, even in that interview. He’s not too high, not too low. Let’s figure this thing out. There’s a solution. We’ll get to it. Let’s figure out what’s in the best interests of everybody. I just like his approach and always have. And an incredible coach, a good administrator, a Congressman. He’s one successful guy, and it’s not a coincidence. He knows what he’s doing.
Hawkins: I wanted to ask him what is wackier right now, college football or politics?
Packer: I wanted to do that, too, but, you know what? I wanted to keep him on sports. We’ll have to bring him back and ask him sometime: What’s easier? Figure this thing out and who’s going to be the four teams or balance the budget? That’ll be a whole different show with Dr. Tom. Hopefully, we’ll get him back sometime and have some fun with him. I got nothing but respect for that guy. I think he’s as good as it gets. I want him on MY side.
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