With Nebraska football now officially going through its transition to a new era, I felt it appropriate to introduce you to a friend of mine, Doug. I can assure you that Doug is very real, a passionate person and is in no way imaginary. He is a quiet man, but when he opines, he always makes it worth everyone’s time and I feel it necessary to bring some thoughts of his to you as Nebraska prepares to embark on a new journey.
Just to preface: Doug is not able to interact at this time, so you’ll have to settle for yelling at me.
I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the experience of being a fan of Nebraska men’s athletics and how miserable it feels and has felt for quite a while now. I wonder at times if I’m just a spoiled fan, the product of witnessing decades of sustained excellence, having been born in 1970 and knowing nothing other than being a fan of a college football powerhouse for the first thirty years of my life.
When things got bad with Bo and I began to find the Husker football fan experience to be unrewarding and unappealing, Tim Miles came in and I really developed a passion for Husker hoops. For me, that program filled the void that was left by a lacking football fan experience. The team wasn’t any good that first year, but the fan experience was just a lot more rewarding to me.
I know many people are football-only fans, as I was mostly before Miles came along. I really didn’t follow Doc Sadler’s program much at all. Years later, I’ve come to a point at which I enjoy both sports a lot and would be content if I just had a good team to follow in either sport. I know that’s a crazy thought for some fans, but I’d be willing to accept never again being relevant in football if I had a top-tier men’s basketball team to follow. I really just want a good team to root for.
What’s frustrated me for a few years now is that it just seems as though virtually every other college fanbase out there has something to cheer for these days in one of the two major men’s sports. I don’t include baseball because I’m not much of a baseball fan, and women’s sports just don’t do it for me. So, for me, football and basketball are the lenses through which I evaluate an athletic department.
I wanted to see if my feelings and frustrations about the Nebraska fan experience relative to the fan experiences of the other 63 teams that make up the Power-5 conferences (including Notre Dame, which is ACC for basketball) were legitimate. Was I just guilty of confirmation bias or was there really something substantive here about how unusually awful it’s been to follow Husker men’s athletics over the past few years?
I decided to do a very basic statistical study using only two essential criteria: 1) Has the football program finished in the top-25 in any of the three previous seasons (using the coaches’ poll), and 2) Has the basketball program made the NCAA tournament in any of the three previous seasons?
I suspected that the statistics would generally support my theory that the Husker fan experience across those two sports has been both horrendous and unusual, but what I found honestly shocked me. It may or may not shock you.
My criteria may seem arbitrary, but they strike me as representing a reasonable standard of assessment for the general health of a university athletic department across the two most popular and financially lucrative collegiate sports.
Most of you have already surmised that Nebraska fits the unfortunate profile of a program that has failed to qualify for either distinction. The school has not fielded a top-25 national football team over the past three seasons (using final season rankings) while also failing to make the NCAA basketball tournament during that same span after an appearance in 2014.
So, now you’re probably wondering how many other teams among the 64 that reside in Power-5 conferences also fit this profile. Believe it or not, it’s a surprisingly rare distinction shared by only four power-five conference schools. You may also be surprised to know that three of those four programs reside in the Big Ten. They are: Nebraska, Illinois, Rutgers and Washington State. Incredibly, not a single SEC, ACC or Big 12 school fits this bottom-dweller profile. And, Washington State appears to have turned the corner in football, currently sitting at No. 15 in the Coaches’ Poll with a 9-2 record.
This means the loser’s table is likely to see its population shrink by one after the current season is over.
What this means is that if you’re a fan of teams like Wake Forest, Minnesota, Purdue, Maryland, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Pittsburgh, Virginia or Oregon State, to name some depressing examples, your athletic department has rewarded you to a greater extent over the past few years than Nebraska’s has, and in some cases by a massive margin.
So, which teams have given their fans a consistently-excellent experience across both major sports over the past three years? The standouts:
Michigan State: 2 top-25 finishes and 3 NCAA tournament appearances
Wisconsin: 2 top-25 finishes and 3 NCAA tournament appearances
Oregon: 2 top-25 finishes and 3 NCAA tournament appearances
USC: 3 top-25 finishes and 2 NCAA tournament appearances
Utah: 3 top-25 finishes and 2 NCAA tournament appearances
Baylor: 2 top-25 finishes and 3 NCAA tournament appearances
Michigan: 2 top-25 finishes and 2 NCAA tournament appearances
Oklahoma: 2 top-25 finishes and 2 NCAA tournament appearances
Oklahoma State: 2 top-25 finishes and 2 NCAA tournament appearances
Ohio State: 3 top-25 finishes and 1 NCAA tournament appearance
Florida State: 3 top-25 finishes and 1 NCAA tournament appearance
Louisville: 2 top-25 finishes and 2 NCAA tournament appearances
North Carolina: 1 top-25 finish and 3 NCAA tournament appearances
Notre Dame: 1 top-25 finish and 3 NCAA tournament appearances
Arizona: 1 top-25 finish and 3 NCAA tournament appearances
West Virginia: 1 top-25 finish and 3 NCAA tournament appearances
Folks, we’re in terrible company, and if you believe you have it bad as a Husker fan, you’re absolutely correct. The facts are as plain as day. This reality was brought to us by a handful of key decision makers who have simply failed to shepherd the program adequately—namely Tom Osborne and Shawn Eichorst. Let’s hope Bill Moos steers the ship far more competently. Things truly can’t get much worse.
Comment below or follow Brandon on Twitter at @eightlaces.