Perlman on NCAA: Something Has to Give
Randy York’s N-Sider
As the college football world turns in places like Indianapolis and Lincoln, Birmingham and Chicago, and yes, even in rosy Pasadena and cotton-picking Arlington, the very definition of the NCAA is being challenged infinitely more than the governing body is being defended. Questions seem to multiply and answers are few and far between. On Wednesday, we met with Harvey Perlman in his office on campus to clarify a variety of issues. Nebraska’s Chancellor, also the chairman of the 12-member BCS Presidential Oversight Committee, did not pile on the NCAA or the BCS. But he was candid in answering 22 N-Sider questions. Please join our conversation:
Q: Everybody seems to be attacking Mark Emmert. If you could give the president of the NCAA one suggestion, what would it be?
A: Slight chuckle for an opening question. I don’t think I’m in position to know enough to give him any advice. I think the NCAA, for good reasons or bad reasons, has a very difficult public relations problem, and I think it is clearly impacting its ability to move forward and to support intercollegiate athletics, and I think that has to be addressed.
Q: In columns and videos and live radio and television, the media elevates the prospect of 65 Division I schools entertaining the idea of leaving the NCAA and starting a new association of its own. What are the odds of that happening?
A: I don’t think the first choice of anyone would be to leave the NCAA because then we’d have to create another one, and I don’t know how that advances the ball. But I do think those 65 or so schools that represent the major football conferences have pressures that other schools don’t have. I think they have resources that other schools don’t have, and I think trying to prevent us from expending those resources on behalf of student-athletes, so we’re forced then to expend them on other things that I would regard as less important, is not a stable condition that can be sustained over time. So something has to give. I mean, I don’t think we’re going to spend the rest of the future of intercollegiate athletics being bound by rules designed by schools that are really not in the same resource league that we are.
Q: What are your views on Maryland and Rutgers joining the league?
A: Another smile. I think it was the right move to take Maryland and Rutgers in. They’re strong academic flagship institutions. I think the Big Ten is advanced and advantaged by having exposure on the East Coast. We (Nebraska) have tried over the last several years to play on the East Coast at some time or another. We have a lot of alumni out there, and we see them when we play Virginia Tech or Wake Forest. They don’t get to see us very often, and I think it’s a good thing when they do get that chance. We have enormous numbers of alumni in the Washington D.C. area. That will be beneficial for us when we play nearby. I don’t see many negatives other than change, which requires an adjustment. But they’ll adjust to us, and we’ll adjust to them.
Q: Is Big Ten expansion dead at 14 schools or not?
A: I don’t know. Certainly the announcement a couple days ago that the ACC has done an assignment of rights seems to give them stability they might not have otherwise had. You have to remember that the Big Ten has not been the aggressor in any of this realignment. The ACC has been the primary aggressor here, provoking other conferences to protect their interests. So if the ACC is stable, that will certainly generate pauses in realignment fever. But I don’t know if it’s dead or not. Even when Nebraska came aboard, the Big Ten was not actively looking. They were just trying to explore what their interests were.
Q: Everybody seems to assume that those signing of rights are edicts. You’re a lawyer. Are they etched in stone?
A: Laughter followed by candor. You know, it’s only a matter of money. You can buy yourself out of most anything. The question is maybe the exit costs for an ACC school have gone up, but it’s not like they’ve put chains around it. That makes negotiating efforts a little different now. I don’t know if an assignment of rights could be enforced in this circumstance, exit or not. It would be an interesting question.
Q: The vote for presidents and chancellors is coming up to approve a new East-West Division and a nine-game Big Ten conference schedule to go with it. Isn’t it almost automatic now that Purdue will join everyone else in the projected West with Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern and Wisconsin?
A: Another smile. That has the momentum, and I suspect it will pass.
Q: Saw in today’s Lincoln Journal-Star that there may be bigger plans for Lincoln’s ice center at the Pinnacle Bank Arena. The Big Ten is launching a new hockey league soon that includes Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State, which is getting into the sport through the generosity of one donor’s endowment. Any chance something like that can happen at UNL?
A:This smile is a dead giveaway for the expected answer. I saw that. We’re not currently looking at men’s hockey.
Q: Speaking of the Pinnacle Bank Arena, only 1,500 season tickets remain for men’s basketball. Does that surprise you at all?
A: All the seats that are left are cheap seats, but they’re great seats. It would be great to sell out a season, and a lot of things have come together for that. The arena is one thing, and there’s a curiosity about it. When we did the financial projections a long time ago, when we were negotiating with the city over the lease we thought we could increase season ticket sales because when you look around the country, with a new arena, higher season ticket sales are normal. I don’t think we expected the passion that we’ve gotten this year, and I think that, in part, there’s a great deal of optimism with what Tim (Miles) and a new arena will do for recruiting. The emphasis is this is an opportunity for everyone to get in on the ground floor. You know how we’ve all watched for a long time those people who bought 50-yard line tickets in the 1920s and how successful that’s been as an investment. It’s like buying an insurance policy for future success.
Q: You’ve been inside the arena. What are you envisioning?
A: We won’t know until we walk in, but it looks like it will be an extraordinarily fan-friendly venue. I know the architects and planners have traveled the country and visited every arena that’s been built in the last few years. They want to learn from their mistakes, and I think our new arena is going to be a very engaging facility.
Q: UNL will have its own suite inside the new arena. If you could pick one musical group that you’d personally like to see and be entertained by, who would it be?
A: Healthy laughter here. I don’t know ... I’m not going there.
Q: Oh, come on. You have someone in mind, right?
A: This one gets a medium-sized laugh. It’d probably be something country western or bluegrass. I’m a fan of both.
Q: If you could share one Perl of Knowledge with someone in the athletic department, who would it be and what would it be?
A: Measured response after long pause. I don’t have any 'perls' to give them. I have a great deal of confidence in Shawn (Eichorst), and I think they’re moving in the right direction. His attitude is what my attitude is. Take the good parts of tradition and build on it.
Q: Shawn has been in charge of the athletic department since New Year’s. As you observe him both from afar and up close and personal, what are some of your professional assessments of what he brings to Nebraska?
A: He has very good common sense and a good understanding, as I predicted he would, about the culture of Nebraska Athletics. He’s not intimidated by it. I think he understands it, and I think he respects it. I see him being cautious, but also working to make it better because every institution can get better.
Q: Many consider Jo Potuto to be one of the best, if not the very best Faculty Athletics Reps in the business. She seems to be highly respected and has a very strong national voice on almost any subject. What are your impressions?
A: You can attribute 98 percent of that to Jo. She is a strong voice. She has a capacity to come to decisions in an orderly and disciplined way and can strongly advocate that decision. I think she has a unique capacity to appreciate and defend proper values in education and an athletic context and yet also understands the pressures brought to bear at the level of intercollegiate athletics that we participate in. She ultimately ends up not only with my respect, but earns the respect of the athletic department.
Q: You made some comments at the annual Student-Athlete Recognition Banquet that honored 255 student-athletes for their commitment to academic excellence. How proud are you of that?
A: I think for anyone in my position as a chancellor of an institution that’s known for a high-profile athletic department, you have to be able to answer the question: ‘Why would you have that within the context of higher education?’ That’s what’s going around in some of the conversations surrounding the NCAA and the (Ed) O'Bannon case and all the others. Why do we care? I think the academic success of student-athletes is why it makes sense to have these programs as a part of our university.
Q: Can you briefly describe your excitement about UNL and Husker Athletics collaborating on a first-of-its-kind research facility in the East Stadium?
A: I think there are enormous opportunities for collaboration generally. We’re doing it across the university, and it’s really good to have athletics become a more integral part of research initiatives at a public university. Our athletic department has a great tradition of advancing the science of training and the science of athletics. I think there are opportunities by bringing in the scientists across the university to collaborate.
A: I think it’s professional. I think it’s successful on the measures that I particularly care about – the academic success of our student-athletes, the behavioral aspects of our student-athletes and the leadership qualities of our student-athletes. I think all of the department’s values are correct, and I think athletics is moving to become a more integrated part of the university. To me, that’s important.
Q: "College Football Playoff" will be the new name for the organization that you will help lead. Did anyone ask for your input?
A: Sincere smile here. No one asked me for my input, but I like the name. It does say what it is, and I think it suggests, unlike the BCS, that there is not some external organization out there with this elaborate bureaucracy that’s running or driving college football. IT really is the conferences and the schools that are most likely to be involved at the upper levels. It is very simply a college football playoff.
Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception that people have on the role college athletics has in a university setting?
A: It seems to me, and this is common with anything, people ask: Is college athletics homogenous? Are problems at one school inherent in all of college athletics? Some are. There’s competitive pressure. There’s financial pressure. There are very good elements within collegiate athletics, including the academic success of student athletes. You also can’t help but look at Title IX and see what’s happened in women’s athletics over the last decade. They compete. They exercise leadership. They don’t play second fiddle to men. All great things were a product of opening up athletic competition. I think a lot of great things have happened, but right now we’re in a period where some flaws are more visible and football gets put under a cloud.
Q: You’re a volleyball fan. What about the Huskers moving to a reconfigured Devaney Center, along with men’s and women’s gymnastics and wrestling?
A: It shows that women’s athletics has arrived, I guess. You can take any kind of university activity, whether it’s an academic event or an athletic event, and with the right commitment, and the right investment, the right leadership and a little bit of luck, you can build something that is really significant. We can look at volleyball. We can look on our laser facility or the Digital Humanities Initiatives. Elements of greatness are all the same, no matter what you do or what field you’re in. I think volleyball exemplifies that.
Q: If you had to pick your favorite athletic-related event during your tenure as chancellor, what would it be?
A: I come at all this in a different way. I enjoyed the 2002 Rose Bowl. I didn’t enjoy the game, but it was kind of interesting to be a part of that, and, of course, we’d like to get back there again. The (13-12) loss to Texas for the Big 12 Championship was memorable. We played a lot better than people gave us credit for playing. Even though it ended controversially, I thought it was just a great environment and a great athletic experience. And I certainly remember when Nebraska won the 2006 national volleyball championship and Sarah Pavan became the most decorated player in NCAA history.
Q: Last question: As a former Nebraska college mascot, do you have a tip for potential students who might want to play the role of Herbie Husker or Lil’ Red?
A: Another hearty laugh from the Chancellor visualizing himself clad as Harry Husker 50 years ago and carrying a brief case...I can think of one tip – Watch out for the beer bottles at Folsom Field! (P.S. The Huskers’ next game in Boulder, Colorado, is set for Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019).
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