|Tom Osborne is throwing money at the men's basketball program, but now must pay big for a coach. (AP)|
By Thursday, college basketball will have infiltrated Nebraska. Kansas and Missouri will be there, the highest-seeded teams in the Omaha pod. Two-time champion Florida will be there. Virginia will be there. Purdue. Hell, even I'll be there.
Know who won't be in Nebraska?
This is a problem, but not a surprise. Nebraska has played in the NCAA tournament six times in 74 years. All-time tournament victories: zero.
That's ridiculous, even nonsensical. Nebraska has one of the more complete athletic departments in the country, starring that monster football program that has won five national titles, but with lots more. The baseball team has three College World Series appearances in the past decade. The women's gymnastics team has made six Super Six appearances in nine years, and the men's gymnastics team is even better, with eight NCAA titles.
Wrestling? Nebraska has finished in the top 10 nationally 18 times. Track and field? The men and women dominated the Big 12, taking 22 of 56 indoor and outdoor titles since 1996. Three national championships in volleyball, too.
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I would say Nebraska is good at pretty much everything but basketball -- but that wouldn't be fair to the women's basketball program, which reached the Sweet 16 in 2010, a season the Huskers started by winning their first 30 games.
Nebraska basketball: 30-0. That was 2010. The women.
Nebraska basketball: 12-16. That's this season. That's every season, or seems to be, for the men.
And the point here is not to rile up Nebraska basketball fans or embarrass Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne. What is the point? Well, you're not the only one asking. When I emailed the college hoops specialists here at CBSSports.com about my plans to write on Nebraska, one replied, "Why are you writing this? No one cares. Not even Nebraska fans."
(OK, it was Jeff Goodman.)
On Twitter, a Nebraska football fan told me that local radio shows refer to the women's team as "Husker Hoops ... We have to say men's hoops if that's who we're talking about."
Nebraska is trying to do something about it. An $18.7 million practice facility opened in October for the men and woman (and wrestling program), and a new arena for games will open in 18 months, a $179 million facility in downtown Lincoln. That's nearly $200 million committed primarily to men's basketball.
What's happening at Nebraska isn't apathy, because $200 million ain't apathetic. Osborne showed that some more last week by firing coach Doc Sadler with more than $3 million still owed to him. Osborne fired Sadler because he was a lot like Barry Collier, who was a lot like Danny Nee: Just good enough to win about half the time.
And again, at the risk of repeating myself, it just doesn't make sense. Don't give me the "football school" argument. Florida was a football school with a total of eight NCAA tournament appearances in 2001, when it built a $10 million basketball facility -- and five years later the Gators won a national title. One year after that, they won another.
Don't give me geography, either, because Nebraska borders Kansas and Iowa -- and the flagship universities in those states have done just fine in basketball. Creighton also has done just fine, and Creighton is in Omaha. This isn't about Nebraska, the location.
It's about Nebraska, the plan of attack.
The plan has changed in recent years, with the practice facility now open and the arena now under construction and the popular coach owed more than $3 million now out of work. If I didn't know any better, I would say Nebraska is about to go all-in for men's basketball, but the final step is the biggest. Without it, the $200 million will be a waste of money -- gold wrapping paper over an empty box.
The final step is the coach, and this is where Nebraska historically has gone chintzy. Sadler, for example, earned $900,000 this past season. Now then, $900,000 is a lot to you and me, but it's nothing to a college basketball coach. Who would come to Nebraska for so much below big-time market value? Danny Nee from Ohio University in 1986. Barry Collier from (then-humble) Butler in 2000. Doc Sadler from UTEP in 2006.
For too long, Nebraska has shown no imagination, no gumption -- no money -- when it comes to hiring men's basketball coaches. And Nebraska has the NCAA tournament record to show for it. This time around, the school is being urged by Maryland coach Mark Turgeon (and by a state columnist) to hire former Nebraska assistant Scott Spinelli, now on Turgeon's staff.
Which would be more of the same. Nobody unproven is going to come into Nebraska and convince great high school players to do what very few great high school players have done before, and play for the Cornhuskers. It will take a very good coach, maybe even a great coach, to break through decades of mediocrity. So how is Nebraska going to convince a great coach to do what very few (if any) great coaches have done before, and coach the Cornhuskers?
By throwing money at him.
Money-whip somebody until he says yes. Somebody like Shaka Smart or Brad Stevens, assuming they would say yes (or even listen). Somebody like Scott Drew, assuming the same. But it has to be somebody with a big name, somebody recruits want to play for -- and whoever he is, that guy will be expensive.
Good thing Nebraska can afford it.
The Huskers are getting richer in the Big Ten, and the football program is printing money already. It turned a $30 million profit in 2010, and now's the time for Osborne to throw some of those millions at a big basketball name. See which one catches it.
Or Nebraska could do what Nebraska has always done, and hire the cheapest successful mid-major coach it can find. Next time the NCAA tournament comes to Nebraska, assuming he hasn't been fired already, that coach could sit next to me on press row.