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Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman said Nebraska's move to the Big Ten was fortuitous timing.
Courtesy: NU Media Relations
          Release: 06/28/2011
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Countdown to the Big Ten: Q&A with Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman

Editor's note: This is the eighth in a series of 10 N-Sider columns that count down Nebraska's journey to become an official member of the Big Ten Conference on July 1, 2011. This column focuses on Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman. The Countdown to the Big Ten series culminates with an N-Sider on Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany on July 1.

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Q: Go back a year when the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's future was being processed for change. What do you remember most from those secretive discussions and clandestine meetings with Jim Delany?

A: The meetings themselves were professional and easy-flowing. Everybody was friendly. It wasn't like we were negotiating across the table. I certainly felt good about the people we were talking to. There was a high level of trust on what was being said both directions. That last week was a whirlwind. It went awfully fast.

Q: How would you describe the overall reaction - one year later - to Nebraska joining the Big Ten and compare and contrast that reaction with the feedback immediately before and after it happened?

A: There were certainly some fans that were uneasy about going into the Big Ten during the two or three weeks before the decision was made. Both Tom and I got quite a few email communications about not doing that. They almost entirely ceased after the decision was made, mainly because we were able to talk about what was going on and what our thinking was. I haven't sensed change in the public attitude towards this. It was more positive than I ever would have thought. There is some degree of nostalgia about not going to Columbia or not going to Lawrence or not going to Manhattan. But there was no concern or belief that the decision was the wrong decision. There was just a feeling of giving up something, and I feel the same way.

Q: Over the past year, do you have any favorite anecdotes from Nebraska faculty or Big Red fans about this historic move into the nation's oldest conference?

A: The thing that has surprised me the most is the number of people who understand the value of this for the academic side of the institution. I thought most people would think of it in athletic terms only, and that's not true.

Q: When you speak to various groups, what are the most asked questions you get and what are your answers to those questions?

A: On the academic side, I think the big question is: What does this really mean for us? I think they get it that it means something, but no one is quite sure, and, frankly, I'm not quite sure. What is the CIC? Is it going to help us in research collaboration, and will this advance us as a major university? I have no doubt that it does, but if you want to talk specifically about what that is going to mean, it's difficult because right now it's just reputational.

Q: You and Tom were a united force in getting the invitation to the Big Ten and then getting unanimity from the Board of Regents to accept. Looking back, are you still amazed how fast everything came together?

A: It is a little amazing when you think back about how quickly it happened. The amazing part for me was how fortuitous the timing was. The Big 12 gave us an ultimatum two days before the presidents of the Big Ten had actually had a scheduled meeting. If they hadn't had a scheduled meeting, I don't know if they'd have ever gotten together in time to make a decision or not. It was the week before our Board of Regents met, and it all just fell in line. If it had come earlier, I don't know if the Big Ten would have been ready to think through their options and make a decision  So it really was fortuitous timing that was quite amazing.

Q: On July 1, when Nebraska officially becomes a member of the Big Ten, how will you commemorate the occasion?

A: You know, we've been so engaged with the Big Ten and so removed from the Big 12 through this whole year that I don't think there will be much difference. I may take my few remaining Big 12-branded clothes to Good Will. I've gotten most of it done, but there are still a few things - my favorite things - that I'll have to part with. The Big Ten doesn't have a whole lot of branded merchandise, so I'll have to go out and buy new stuff.

Q: Most of us know this move was a slam-dunk from an academic and research point of view. Tell us why that's true and what excites you most in those two areas going forward.

A: You are known by the company you keep, and the Big Ten has historically been a collection of very successful and very significant public - for the most part - research universities and land-grant universities, much like us. The other important aspect is how homogenous the Big Ten group of universities is. They're all pretty much the same. When you say Big Ten institution, you pretty much know what you're talking about. That's not true of the Big 12. It's very much a heterogeneous collection of universities. When you say Big 12, are you thinking about somebody like Texas, or are you thinking about Iowa State or Kansas State? I think that's the A-significant difference.

Q: The strategic plan for Innovation Campus is well defined, and with expansion of East Stadium, the Athletic Department envisions having an Athletic Research Center. Can you give us the simplest description of Innovation Campus and share your feelings on the potential future of athletic research?

A: One major metric of success these days is whether you're able to leverage the university's research to create economic growth in the state of Nebraska, and Innovation Campus is our play to do that on a larger scale than we're able to accomplish otherwise. So that's the key at this point. I can tell you the concept behind Innovation Campus, but I couldn't tell you what it's going to look like five years from now. That's going to depend on where research takes us and what private-sector companies think about what we do. I'm not surprised that the research facility in the athletic department is amorphous. Einstein said at one point: "If we could say what research is, it wouldn't be research". We don't know what we're doing. That's why they call it research. Just the fact that athletics is thinking about a research agenda is extraordinary. I think it brings the Athletic Department into the countenance of this university. Many people think athletics is into doing its own thing. I think athletic research gives you an answer to critics of a university supporting intercollegiate athletics.

Q: Speaking of academics and the perceptions thereof, Nebraska leads the nation in terms of Academic All-Americans, dating back to the 1960s. Does something like that have any kind of influence on a Big Ten Conference contemplating expansion?

A: I think it was a strong element of what Jim Delany calls the culture fit between Nebraska and the Big Ten. I think the Big Ten has long stood for academic excellence in its athletic programs, and I think that reflects well on athletics as well as the rest of the university. That's one place where we come to the Big Ten, and we're a leader and a legend (laughter).

Q: You said it was embarrassing when the American Association of Universities voted Nebraska out of the AAU. First, how do you restore that order, and secondly, tell us why that has to be yesterday's news for a university clearly on the move.

A: Time will heal a lot of that. I think our message with respect to how we characterize that has been addressed sufficiently enough that most people understand what happened. It was not a decision that was based on judgment or quality of the institution. It was mechanistic application of a formula that had us at a disadvantage without a medical school on our Lincoln campus and not acknowledging agricultural research. I'm surprised at the number of people around the country that have no connection with us that I run into and say: "Gee, that was terrible, but what were they thinking?" My sense is, for the most part, it's behind us.

Q: Would you explain why you believe that Jim Delany is such a powerful leader in college athletics?

A: He's very bright. He has a good understanding of intercollegiate athletics in the context of institutions in higher education. He has the strong support of his presidents, which allows him to say things that other commissioners might not feel free to say. He leads a conference that has a strong penchant for academics and has great concern for student-athlete welfare. Notwithstanding occasional breaches in compliance, the Big Ten has a pretty good record for trying to win in the right way.

Q: Including well documented compliance cases and beyond, isn't NCAA process frustrating for everyone?

A: The NCAA process is extraordinarily frustrating. You can't do anything without getting the approval of 400 different governance groups. You have too many institutions that are dissimilar making the rules for other institutions that are dissimilar from them. You have high-budget athletic departments that can easily fund cost-of-attendance scholarships. When they can, it's hard to see the argument on the other side. The argument on the other side is all of these smaller institutions can't afford to do what the larger universities can. That's one position to have, and it's not one that's sustainable in the long term.

Q: How does Nebraska create and maintain its reputation following the rules and doing things right?

A: That's easy - you just keep following the rules and doing things right. I mean, it all depends on the culture in the athletic department. It's not something that enforcement mechanisms can resolve. It's part history, part culture. Coaches inevitably drive the attitude about compliance.

Q: Speaking of someone who exemplifies the principle "winning in the right way", would you weigh in on why Tom Osborne is the right man at the right time to help Nebraska make this monumental move into the Big Ten?

A: I think he has sufficient local credibility that people gave us the benefit of the doubt on this decision. He has sufficient national credibility that he's in a good position to assure that Nebraska's interests are maintained and considered during this transition and afterwards.

Q: You enjoy following your favorite team on the road. What game intrigues you most this fall - the one in Laramie, Madison, Minneapolis, State College or Ann Arbor?

A: I'm looking forward to all of them and especially the four in our new conference. I was at Penn State the last time we were there. The last time I was at Madison was in the '60s. I've been to Minneapolis, but obviously not since they built their new stadium on campus. I've never been to Ann Arbor, so I'm interested to see the dynamics of their culture there. We hope it will be exciting and competitive. When I speak with my new presidential colleagues in the Big Ten, I think they're all as excited about coming to Lincoln as we are to go their venues. They hear that we have a great atmosphere, and they're eager to experience it.

Q: What's your take on everyone in the Big Ten insisting that Nebraska's schedule this fall will be the toughest Big Ten schedule ever:

A: That's fine. There's a certain degree of luck and fortuity associated with how a season comes about, including injuries and other things. I'm sure we are of competitive quality. I'm sure we'll play hard. There's a lot of confidence. I'm sure Bo will have them ready, so I'm pretty optimistic about the challenge in front of us.

Q: We're not looking for a sermon, but can you crystallize why the BCS works for the schools that belong to that organization?

A: The biggest positive is it does what it is designed to do: Put a No. 1 and a No. 2 team together in a national championship game. That's a very positive thing because it couldn't be done under the old system where conference champions were committed to particular bowls. In my view, it's a close case of whether that's a better system than the old system where we just play the bowl games as they fall out and then evaluate the results. College football is the only NCAA sport where every game counts, and that's part of what makes it unique.

Q: Why is Jo Potuto, one of your law professors, one of the most powerful women in college athletics?

A: She's very bright. She's very articulate. She's not reluctant to state her position. The primary reason is that she has a good understanding of the balance that's required between competitive success, student-athlete welfare and academic interests of the institution. She's always been successful in finding a way to be engaged with the athletic department in order to be helpful and yet, at the same time, be sufficiently independent enough to be a critic if she wants. I think being a Faculty Athletic Representative is by the toughest job in intercollegiate athletics, and it's still the most important. Everyone makes all this big deal out of presidential control of college athletics and certainly at some level that has been the case. Certainly the trend is reflective of having a president that now twice has been president of the NCAA. But the reality on a day-to-day basis is presidents don't have day-to-day control of college athletic departments because they don't have time. Of course, presidents don't control history departments either. That's why a FAR (Faculty Athletic Representative) should be the representative of the president or the chancellor.

Q: Nebraska's athletic facilities are getting an extreme makeover, especially in football and basketball, plus baseball and softball and later, volleyball. Can you tell us how an expanded stadium, new practice facilities and a new downtown arena will change the face of this university and this city?

A: I think the only one that changes the face of the city is the new arena, and that's because of what the arena will make possible in terms of the development of the Haymarket area, the commercial opportunities, the entertainment and the ability to host events that are not just destination events like the Devaney Center has been. I think that will dramatically change the face of Lincoln. And hopefully, more people will come here and make this an even more exciting community.

Q: Do you think Nebraska will be playing at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship in December?

A: I think we have as fair a chance as anyone else.

Q: Last question. Who's Nebraska's most famous fan - Warren Buffett, Clarence Thomas or Larry the Cable Guy?

A: I don't know because I don't know all of the Nebraska fans. George Pataki (former governor of New York) was an avid Nebraska fan, and I didn't know that until he was sitting behind me at the Rose Bowl 10 years ago. So you just don't know who all is out there. It's hard to make a pick without knowing all the options.

Respond to Randy 

Voices from Husker Nation

Chancellor Perlman stating he may take his remaining Big 12-branded clothes to the Goodwill is the best laugh I've had since this whole Big Ten issue surfaced more than 18 months ago. That was a classic! On a more serious note, I'm really looking forward to UNL's new sports era that begins this Friday. Ohio State playing in Memorial Stadium Oct. 8 will be a football dream-come-true. Thanks for the features, Randy.They have been very enjoyable reads. Kevin Horn, Alliance, Nebraska

Enjoyed the Perlman piece immensely. Showed his wit and wisdom and had a winning tone for some of us who never get to read much about the non-athletic part of the Nebraska equation. Truly fine stuff for an athletic site to give us the big picture in the Big Ten Countdown series. It tells quite a story obout one of the biggest decisions,  if not the biggest decision, in Nebraska athletic history. Let the games begin! Steve  Shankland, Scottsdale, Arizona

 

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