Prem Paul and Tom Osborne are bringing UNL Research and Nebraska Athletics together for research.
Photo by University Communications

Chancellor, Two Regents Praise First Step in Unique Collaboration

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York's N-Sider

Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne and Prem Paul, UNL's vice chancellor for research & economic development, kicked off six hours of shared vision Thursday for the 45,000 square feet of research space under construction in Nebraska’s East Stadium expansion project, and let the record show that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s chancellor and two members of UNL’s Board of Regents were impressed.

“I think this athletic department can make a niche for itself at a time when it is critical that athletic departments be seen as productive and constructive in unique ways,” UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman told more than 100 attending a retreat with a theme of Building Research Collaborations.

“It will be awhile before we get beyond the Penn State, North Carolina, Miami, Ohio State issues,” Perlman said, “and I think that nothing could make us at the university prouder than to acknowledge that our athletic program is not only up to winning, but we’re offering our student-athletes the opportunity to use the program to provide information that may be more broadly helpful to society than just performance. This is exciting. It’s the first step, and I encourage all of you in the athletic department and on the academic side of the university to work hard to make this work.”

Connecting Nebraska Athletics with UNL Research

Regents Tim Clare and Jim McClurg were equally enthused Thursday about the possibilities for connecting Nebraska Athletics with UNL’s strengths in research. From engineering and psychology to management, communications, and nutrition and health sciences, the opportunities for research collaborations related to health and performance are vast.

UNL Psychology Professor Dennis Molfese will lead the proposed Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior that will occupy a portion of the research space. Molfese shared his vision of a center he believes will “set the tone for the rest of the country.”  The center is a cornerstone of proposed collaborations, and seven UNL faculty members outlined Nebraska’s diverse research expertise and capabilities Thursday for an audience that included experts from all disciplines. They described an array of potential connections and collaborations related to health and athletic performance research.

“A variety of fields will work together to provide different research that’s not being done anywhere in the country,” Clare said. “It’s another signature of expertise that Nebraska is bringing to the country ... another Nebraska first ... and it’s exciting to have leaders in place who are willing to put their expertise together, so it not only benefits the university and the state, but the entire country.”

Nebraska has a national reputation for its focus on student-athletes. “It’s the Nebraska Way and why people respect the program,” McClurg said. “This is a way for us to keep our student-athletes healthy and to help them perform, and this collaboration takes what we do to an all-together different level. It is next-generation technology and next-generation leadership, and it’s very exciting for us to get into this position.”

Academic Achiever, Innovative Coach, Dynamic Leader

Thursday was a pivotal day for a stoic leader. Osborne not only is a Hall-of-Fame football coach zeroed in on student-athlete health and welfare, but also was the Nebraska Athletic Department’s first-ever academic counselor, so he’s been connecting academics with athletics for more than five decades. A true pioneer in football specifically and athletics generally, Thursday’s kickoff retreat took Osborne back to the ‘60s when he convinced Bob Devaney to hire Boyd Epley, the first strength and conditioning coach in college and pro football history.

Well known for his academic roots and innovative ways, Osborne faced a crossroads when he earned his doctorate degree at Nebraska in Educational Psychology. Devaney  asked Osborne to make a choice between football and academia, and, fortunately, Osborne chose football.

Thursday, Perlman drew a laugh when he recalled how former Nebraska Chancellor Woody Varner would tell people that Nebraska was the only university in the country that had a head football coach with a Ph.D. and a president without one.

“I’m very excited about the prospects here,” Perlman said. “When you start collaboration, you never know what’s going to happen. You don’t know if linkages will be vague, but when you put a lot of good people who are comparable together, you do know that good things will happen.  I think that’s the real power of this enterprise, the real value of this retreat and the value of these two research spaces that have been put together so that interaction can take place.”

McClurg: Collaboration Core of Unique Partnership

Interaction, of course, is the match that lights communication and cooperation. “Collaboration is at the core of all of this,” McClurg said. “It helps Nebraskans see athletics and leadership and students and even physicists in physiology coming together so that 1+1=3 every morning.  

“The collaboration is enormous,” McClurg added. “We have so much talent at this university and to see everyone stack up together is just so powerful. You know what else? There’s nothing wrong with this being fun. What could be more fun than having cutting-edge research that supports all of these wonderful student-athletes and, at the same time, helps Nebraska win?”

Clare remembers talking to several people that became catalysts for the collaboration two years ago. “I encouraged all of them to capitalize on other expertise on the campus – bring in psychology, bring in management, bring in other forms and other disciplines because everyone can collectively come out of this with a dynamic amount of research that can benefit the university, the state of Nebraska and the entire country."

Triple-Crown Leadership: Osborne, Paul and Molfese

“I am 100 percent on board and excited about the prospects of our academic/athletic collaboration,” Clare said. “That’s what happens when you have great leaders. You put the leaders in place, and they stay within the parameters of what we’re trying to do and then just go out and get it done. Coach Osborne’s leadership has been outstanding. Prem Paul’s leadership has been outstanding. Dr. Molfese’s leadership has been outstanding.”

As a key part of this triple crown of leadership, Molfese will be an anchor tenant in a research facility that could go beyond influencing this city, this state and this country. With Osborne, Paul and Molfese leading the charge, we might be talking world-class, and that would suit Chancellor Perlman just fine.

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