This morning, Coach Bo Pelini and I co-signed and sent a message to all football season ticket holders, requesting their annual renewal for a milestone 125th season so we can extend our ongoing NCAA record of consecutive sellouts to 52 years. To add to the anticipation, already high after the win over Georgia in our 50th all-time bowl game appearance, Kelly Mosier has produced a compelling video, featuring the voices of six returning Husker football players. I invite everyone to watch it, because it conveys something we all sense and feel – that There is no Place Like Nebraska to watch a football game.
We want to make the Memorial Stadium experience even better, and we’ve taken a big step forward to ensure that the game-day experience will improve next fall. Last week, Chancellor Harvey Perlman and I recommended, and the Board of Regents approved, a new sound system and WiFi network that will be installed before the 2014 season begins. Our staff is working diligently to make other game-day improvements as well and all improvements are being implemented with one thing in mind – to give the best college football fans in America the best game-day experience possible.
We expect another packed house for the season opener on August 30th when we celebrate our 334th consecutive home sellout. Season ticket holders who renew before the early-bird deadline of February 19th will be eligible for some great prizes.
Our Marketing Department, Ticket Office and Huskers Athletic Fund are tuned in to the football renewals process and are implementing a new ticketing system called Seat Yourself, which will make it easier for donors and new season ticket holders to purchase new seats or to move current seats. They are also focused on baseball and softball season, group and single-game tickets.
New venues create new opportunities. Over this past year, we have increased our number of volleyball season tickets sold from 3,441 to 6,772; men’s basketball season tickets from 6,915 to 12,436; women’s basketball season ticket sales have nearly doubled, increasing from 2,103 to 3,724; and the East Stadium expansion at Memorial Stadium added nearly 5,500 new season tickets. These increases are a true credit to loyal Husker fans who attend our events and support our student-athletes, coaches and programs.
I’m also grateful to all of you for your dedicated attendance at all of our other sporting events. Our winter sports are enjoying wonderful attendance at home events. Our wrestling team recently drew 3,946 fans to a dual match against Iowa. The weekend before, our wrestlers hosted Penn and our women’s gymnastics team hosted Northern Illinois in our first-ever “Tumble N’ Rumble,” a combined meet that drew 2,746 fans at the Devaney Center. Our track and field team drew a crowd of 2,180 at the Holiday Inn meet this month. Swimming and diving had great support last weekend for their one and only home meet this semester.
In addition to supporting our home Husker events, our Director of Athletic Ticketing, Holly Adam, tells me we have already sold 3,996 women’s basketball all-session tickets for the NCAA Regionals at Pinnacle Bank Arena on March 29th and 31st. We’re hoping that number continues to climb daily as our fans realize what an honor it is to host an event that advances the winner to the Final Four.
Nebraska has the best fans in the nation across all sports and we have another chance to show our loyalty beginning Wednesday, February 5th, when tickets go on sale for our annual Spring Football Game on Saturday, April 12th. In each of the last two years our fans snapped up 20,000 Spring Game tickets on the first day they went on sale. That first day of the spring ticket campaign continues to coincide with football’s National Letter of Intent Signing Day, giving Husker fans a tangible way to express their enthusiasm.
At Nebraska, we look at collegiate athletics from the student-athlete point of view, and our priorities focus on success in academics first, success in athletics second and the combined power of both to produce success in life.
I recently attended the NCAA’s annual convention in San Diego. National attention continues to focus on the 800 participants who discussed the organization’s governance structure for two full days. Generally speaking, NCAA members are debating three major issues – appropriate representation, structure and autonomy. Hopefully, those discussions will lead to additional opportunities to address these three issues more comprehensively and more decisively in the future, ultimately to the benefit of our student-athletes.
The personal highlight of the NCAA Convention for me was Chancellor Perlman presenting Mary Weatherholt with her NCAA Top 10 Award at the Honors Celebration. Mary’s award gives Nebraska an NCAA-leading 17 total awards. The Top 10 Award, the NCAA’s highest individual student-athlete honor, is based on academic achievement, athletic accomplishment and community service, and we could not be more proud to have one of the Top 10 student-athletes in America from a field of 450,000 student-athletes across all divisions. I know I speak for Mary’s parents and family and for all of our athletic staff when I say congratulations, Mary, for reaching the highest level possible as a student-athlete.
I close this column sharing an experience last weekend that touched us all and reminded me of what’s truly important in life. Last Sunday evening at Pinnacle Bank Arena, we had a successful joint promotion at our men’s basketball game against Minnesota. Every year, throughout the country, the National Association of Basketball Coaches sponsors a Suits and Sneakers Weekend to help raise awareness for the Coaches vs. Cancer program. In an attempt to win $10,000 for our school’s Relay for Life, 371 of our UNL students came to our 82-78 win over Minnesota in their Suits and Sneakers.
At the same game, thanks to my wife Kristin, Tim Miles, Chris Harriman, Marc Boehm, Chris Anderson and many other volunteers, we were able to pioneer a Bone Marrow Donor Awareness Day. Our Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and other student-athletes chose to support the bone marrow donor awareness to show their support for Avery Harriman, the 6-year-old son of Chris Harriman, one of our assistant basketball coaches. Avery has been diagnosed twice with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia – the first time when he was a 2-year-old and then again on October 17th, 2012, when Chris and wife Cheryl revisited the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Last year, they were able to identify an anonymous bone marrow donor that literally saved Avery’s life. He is now leukemia free. Coach Harriman’s goal has been to expand the list of registered donors, and last Sunday, 111 Husker fans completed a cotton swab test that will allow them to be on the registry of potential donors. We were thrilled to host three other young children who also had successful bone marrow transplants, including A.J. Rydel, Levi Dybdal and Kimberly Short. Kimberly was accompanied by her brother John, who is both her hero and her donor.
Coincidentally, at the NCCA Convention, Cameron Lyle was the 2014 recipient of the NCAA’s Award of Valor. Lyle, a student-athlete on the University of New Hampshire’s track and field team, gave up his senior season and a possible conference championship to be an anonymous bone marrow donor to a 28-year-old man who had the same kind of leukemia that Avery Harriman had. The successful bone marrow transplant was the result of Lyle’s random swab test. The success stories of Avery, A.J., Levi, Kimberly and Lyle are inspiring to us all.
Until next time, stay positive and Go Big Red!
The deadline to vote for Nebraska fullback C.J. Zimmerer to win the National Rare Disease Champion Award is tonight (Friday, January 31st) at 11:59 p.m. C.J. is the Past President of Nebraska Football’s Uplifting Athletes Chapter and has done an excellent job of raising awareness about pediatric brain cancer. Rex Burkhead won the same award in 2012. Individuals can click here to vote for C.J. We hope you will vote before midnight and improve his chances to win. He is definitely deserving of this national award.
Legends Reception Honors History and Produces Laughs
While I have only lived in Nebraska for 16 months, I believe I am acquiring a full appreciation of our Athletic Department’s history and the level of dedication of those who established our tradition of excellence. In traveling across this great state and around the country at alumni events, I discovered another virtue – how much Huskers like to tell stories and how much they like to laugh as they reminisce. Last week, we hosted a Legends Reception in the multipurpose room of our Student Life Complex, and I think we all walked out of that room with smiles on our faces knowing that we want to do something like this again. It was a real treat to hear the stories of fabled longtime Athletic Department employees, including those who were able to attend the first Legends get-together, including: Francis Allen, Don “Fox” Bryant, George Darlington, Al Papik, Joe Selig, Bill “Shep” Shepard, George Sullivan, Milt Tenopir and Art McWilliams. We also enjoyed catching up with other legends, such as Olympic gold medalist Charlie Greene, and longtime members of the media, including but not limited to, Jack Payne, Gary Sadlemyer and Mike Babcock. I’m truly looking forward to our next get-together.
Coach Rhonda Revelle’s softball team is seeking a return trip the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City this year, and this team deserves support. Season tickets are now available for 2014. Don’t forget that kids 6-and-under and UNL students get free general admission seating at Bowlin Stadium. The marketing focus this season is on single-game seating, and I strongly believe softball will become a hot ticket this season.
I like the new ideas that will be part of a UNL Big Red Road Show Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. at Omaha’s Marcus Midtown Cinema. This is the 13th consecutive year for UNL to take this show on the road in order to give high school students a sense of what college life is like. Prospective students and their parents will experience a revamped format Saturday when UNL welcomes them with four floors of interactive activities at a unique venue in the heart of Nebraska’s largest city. UNL will have 25 interactive booths showcasing Nebraska’s opportunities through academic excellence and student life. Presentations include Pulitzer Prize winner and UNL journalism professor Matt Waite, the UNL Dance Department and the UNL Pep Band, just to mention a few.
American composer Maria Schneider dominated the classical music categories at the 2014 Grammy Awards last Sunday at the Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Maria credited Ted Kooser for his influence on her three Grammy Awards that were included on her “Winter Morning Walks” album. Kooser, a former U.S. Poet Laureate and current UNL Professor of English, published “Winter Morning Walks, 100 Postcards to Jim Harrison” in 2000. He wrote many of the poems in the volume while taking his predawn walks during his recovery from cancer. The compilation found its way into the hands of Ms. Schneider, a musician, composer and fellow cancer survivor. Kooser’s words inspired Minnesota native Schneider because they made her “feel like home”.
UNL's College of Business Administration (CBA) earned a Gold Medal Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) District VI. The CASE VI Institutional Awards recognize the best work in professional advancement completed for the 2012-13 academic year and were presented January 13th at the annual conference in Kansas City. UNL’s DREAM BIG Campaign won the Academy Gold Medal Award for Integrated Advancement Programs-Recruitment and Retention. UNL Dean Donde Plowman had the vision for DREAM BIG, which stands for Develop, Risk, Empower, Achieve, Maximize, Build, Innovate, and Grow.
I’m looking forward to having two veteran coaches on my radio show next Tuesday, February 4th. First up is Nebraska Men’s Tennis Coach Kerry McDermott. Kerry is the second longest tenured tennis coach in the Big Ten and his teams have won 352 matches. Next up is Nebraska Men’s and Women’s Track and Field Coach Gary Pepin, the all-time winningest track and field coach in the history of the Big 12 and Big Eight Conferences. Kerry will be interviewed first and Gary will follow him during the 7 to 8 p.m. hour on the Huskers Sports Network with Greg Sharpe.
Kelly Mosier, Director of Digital Communications for Huskers.com, produced an inspirational video that includes comments from six key returning players, including Heisman Trophy candidate Ameer Abdullah.
Chris Harriman Describes Son’s Leukemia Experience
Nebraska Assistant Basketball Coach Chris Harriman describes why his goal is to increase awareness of bone marrow transplants and expand the registry of qualified donors.
Kelsey Griffin, one of the most accomplished Huskers both on and off the court in program history, flew 28 hours through four time zones and two sunrises from Alaska to Nebraska, to have her jersey permanently retired before the Huskers’ lopsided win over Michigan. She is the third Husker in women’s basketball history, to have that honor. The other two are Karen Jennings and Maurtice Ivy. Congratulations Kelsey. The honor is well deserved.
Husker Baseball: It’s Who We Are!
Perhaps many of you already have noticed our marketing campaign to sell baseball tickets. The campaign theme is Nebraska Baseball: It’s Who We Are! It also focuses on three words – Team. Compete. Believe. Our players and coaches have filmed entertaining commercials that have been introduced through local television and social media throughout the month of January. The ads have spurred 200 new fans to buy season tickets. Prime seat locations are still available. Diamond Deals also went on sale this week, giving fans the option to pick any nine games on our schedule and sit in lower level reserved seats. We expect to compete for the Big Ten Championship after reaching the title game last summer in Minneapolis. Coach Darin Erstad also sets a goal to reach the College World Series, and the interesting part about that is the tremendous opportunity we have in hosting the Big Ten Conference Tournament May 21-25 at Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park, the home field for the College World Series.