View From the Press Box: Dion Clisso 3/15

Dion Clisso

By Dion Clisso PrepsKC Managing Editor
Posted: March 15, 2011 - 10:29 PM



Sunday morning as I was drinking my morning coffee I read something that truly saddened me. The University of Nebraska-Omaha was dropping football and wrestling while at the same time moving its basketball programs from NCAA Division II to Division I.

 

The reasoning was the football and wrestling programs cost too much money and if the programs weren’t cut and the move of the basketball programs was not made, the athletic department would be bankrupt in five years.

 

The end of this football program saddened me for many reasons. Chief among those reasons is the group of young men who now have no place to play football next season. The current roster of UNO features 16 players from the Metro. Of those players none were seniors and only one were a junior. Nearly 20 percent of UNO’s roster was made up of players from the Metro and the 2011 recruiting class had seven more players heading to Omaha. That number was a third of the total recruiting class for next year.

 

If UNO had played football in 2011 basically 25 percent of the roster would be local players. That is a pretty large number. In fact it would be one of the biggest numbers of any of the Division II schools in the Midwest.

 

UNO had only been in the MIAA a few seasons but they had quickly seen there was a goldmine of talent in the Metro. Now these players don’t have anywhere to play. The university will honor the scholarships of the players who are there but the recruits are left look for another school. Some like Olathe North’s Kyle Swartz have found a new home. Swartz will go to Pittsburg State in the fall.

 

Another reason I am saddened by the cutting of both football and wrestling is because both programs are successful. The wrestling team had just won the national championship the week before and the football team was in the playoffs several times over the last 10 years.

 

It wasn’t like the football program wasn’t popular. The people in Omaha liked going to games and some of their games were on TV in high definition. My wife’s family is from Omaha and while the University of Nebraska at Lincoln is the king of the state, people in Omaha followed the program and wanted it to do well. In fact many people I talked to in Omaha were thrilled when UNO moved to the MIAA setting up annual games with Northwest Missouri State, Missouri Western and Pittsburg State.

 

The decision was announced by the UNO athletic director Trev Alberts. If that name sounds familiar it’s because he was a star with the Cornhuskers in the early 1990s before a short NFL career followed by a stint as an analyst at ESPN.

 

When I think of someone who is qualified to run a major university athletic department I think a former football player and broadcaster fits the bill. Someone with those qualifications would be well suited to run a multi-million dollar company.

 

If you can’t tell I’m being sarcastic. Alberts is just another former jock put in the wrong position and now it is having disastrous results. Alberts has been on the job for less than two years but when he took the job he sounded like a man ready to lead UNO to the next level, not a guy who would be cutting programs.

 

“I believe the potential for UNO’s athletic programs is unlimited,” Alberts said in 2009 when he was hired. “This new chapter in my life will be exciting for me and for my family. I had an amazing experience as a college athlete. For several years now, I’ve wanted to return to college athletics and give something back. This position at UNO is a privilege.”

 

Now Alberts has decided to bet the entire athletic department on D-I basketball in the Summit League. Yes that same Summit League UMKC calls home. If there would be any reason not to move a program to D-I UMKC is a shining example. In more than 20 years the Kangaroos haven’t even sniffed the NCAA tournament and now are playing in a tiny gym in front of hundreds of their devoted fans.

 

To think that UNO is suddenly going to become some kind of player in D-I basketball is just stupid. There are more than 300 teams in the men’s D-I level and maybe 40 of them could be considered very successful. Another 60 or so are decent and the rest are just taking up space.

 

That challenge is daunting enough for UNO but sadly they are second banana in its own city and third banana in its own state. In fact some would tell you Creighton is the king of basketball in Nebraska. The Blue Jays average almost 15,000 a game and just a few years ago were the No. 6 team in the country in terms of average attendance.

 

Good luck UNO, you’re going to need it.

Dion Clisso is the Managing Editor of PrepsKC. To reach him send e-mail to dion@prepskc.com.