As the fall sports season for the Big Ten draws to a close, it brings the end of an era. Next year schedules, teams and competition level will change for all Big Ten sports when the University of Nebraska joins the conference. We shouldn’t get comfortable with just the addition of Nebraska — there’s potential for even more teams to join the Big Ten in the coming years. While most fans won’t be personally affected by the addition of Nebraska — after all, it’s just an extra team on the schedule — it affects the Big Ten greatly.

The level of competition from Nebraska will be undeniably high. The Cornhuskers live and breathe athletics and have outstanding support from fans. They have 21 teams — including bowling and rifle — that are all talented. At the end of each year, the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics gives out an award called the Directors Cup. This award runs on a system that awards each team a certain number of points. Whichever school has the most points at the end of the year is crowned the strongest Athletic Department. Last year, five Big Ten schools were in the top 25 — the University of Michigan included — and so was Nebraska. The Big Ten isn’t just adding easy wins to its schedules, it’s adding a high-level competitor that not only has the potential to hold its own, but could possibly be a powerhouse Big Ten team.

Highly competitive teams are followed closely by fan support. The Big Ten is known for having outstanding and downright rabid fans. Rivalry games like Ohio State vs. Michigan, Michigan vs. Michigan State and Purdue vs. Indiana all bring out the best — or worst — in fans and games.

If you’ve ever played Nebraska or been to a Husker event, you know these fans are no exception. The state of Nebraska has no professional teams or notable tourist attractions, but they have the University of Nebraska. They think they’re the best, expect the best and play the best, which means they’ll fit right in with the mentalities of schools like Michigan State University and Ohio State University. I think teams will enjoy competing against the Huskers. It’s an experience that can’t be forgotten. For example, when the volleyball team beat the Huskers in three short games on their home court in fall 2006, I’ve never heard 5,000 people so quiet.

Scheduling is going to be the biggest change for athletic teams. For 20 years, teams have enjoyed the same rotation in schedules. For example, volleyball has enjoyed an even “round-robin” schedule where everyone plays each other twice each season — once at home and once away. With new teams comes larger rotations and fewer meetings of teams. There has been fear that rivalries would be lost. Can you imagine a football season without a Michigan matchup against Michigan State or Ohio State? While fans enjoy watching our football team beat up on the University of Connecticut and Illinois, those aren’t the games that they enjoy the most. Keeping the conference strong is important, but I think keeping traditional rivalries alive is as, if not more, important.

So far, rivalries have stayed in tact, but with the possibility of adding more teams I think we’ll see fewer of these matchups. There’s a possibility that fewer meetings will lead to rivalry games becoming an even bigger deal, leaving teams with two-year bragging rights. But I can only see fans liking this if their team wins. Nobody wants Michigan State boasting for two straight years without a chance at redemption. But because the conference is driven by money and the media, it seems these games would stay on the schedules simply because of the revenue that they bring in.

While the Big Ten will benefit from the addition of Nebraska, the biggest beneficiary is Nebraska itself. The Big Ten is a stronger and more prestigious conference than the Big 12 — Nebraska’s current conference — which should improve the school’s recruiting. The Big Ten is stronger than the Big 12 in academics as well.

At first I resisted the idea of adding new teams to the Big Ten, but I’m starting to come around. People said the same thing when Pennsylvania State University was added 20 years ago and it has turned out to be one of the strongest teams in the conference. While next year might be a little shaky as the Big Ten adjusts, I think it’s going to turn out to be an overwhelming positive in the end.

Courtney Fletcher can be reached at fletchco@umich.edu.

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