Senior Writer

Fates of Nebraska, Big 12, maybe Big East lie with Osborne


Time for Tom Osborne to go for two again.

Nebraska's AD probably can't go through a day without being reminded of one of the most noble, brave and decisive moves in coaching history. Osborne lost the game (the 1984 Orange Bowl, a 31-30 Miami victory) but won the battle for hearts and minds.

When Miami went tripping off into that New Year's night with a national championship, Nebraska's coach came away with a gift that only character bestows: He could look himself in the mirror.

With a national championship on the line, Osborne went for two that night against the gum-flapping, show-boating Hurricanes. Down 31-30, kicking the extra point would have been the smart thing to do. A tie would have most likely clinched Osborne's first national championship and no one could have said a word.

The 1983 Huskers were the "Scoring Explosion" with superstars Turner Gill, Irving Fryar and Mike Rozier. It was one of the best teams ever but you don't remember because they lost. That night's Orange Bowl became the perfect storm of an all-time great team vs. a dynasty on the rise. Maybe the difference was Nebraska was being forced to play a true road game in a national championship bowl game.

Excuses? No, there weren't going to be any excuses. That's why Osborne went for two and never looked back. The decision marked the man -- he was taught to play to win. Other coaches, with less backbone and job security, would have kicked that extra point and been set for life.

Not Osborne, which makes it so hard to consider that he may have to make that decision to go for two again. And the stakes are much bigger.

His school has this ultimatum from Texas to either spit or get off the pot. Commit to the Big 12, Texas is saying, or we'll take this Pac-10 offer, rake in more cash and kiss the Big 12 goodbye. It's on you, Nebraska. Texas is good at this sort of thing -- it could blame Cadillac for those Toyota brake problems and get away with it.


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How it all got so sideways between Nebraska and Texas goes back decades. Nebraska was used to wielding power in the old Big Eight with Oklahoma. It thought it was at least going to have a measure of power in the Big 12 but that soon changed.

Texas and Oklahoma basically created the Big 12. Those schools' athletic directors went to New York, priced the new league with the networks and advertisers and came away with a winner. Shortly thereafter, Texas mandated there would be no partial qualifiers. Half of the conference revenue split was based on appearances. The conference office left the Big Eight's ancestral home in Kansas City and moved to Dallas.

It long ago became too Texas-centric for Osborne and Nebraskans. Jerry Jones built a palace of a stadium and recently locked up the Big 12 championship game for the next few years. Perhaps the last indignity was Nebraska losing by a point in December's title game when it came within a second of beating Texas.

Texas winning in Texas. Another "road" game in a championship game. Maybe it isn't fair but what do you do about it? That's what makes Osborne's decision so difficult. The Nebraska of today is not the Nebraska of Osborne's era when he retired after winning three of four national titles. The Cornhuskers haven't won a Big 12 title since 1999. Texas has won at least 10 games (including a national championship) nine years in a row. The Huskers are close to getting their old swagger back, but Texas has used the Big 12 to build its athletic department to the high point in its history. And now suddenly it's up to Nebraska to keep the Big 12 -- and maybe the Big East -- together. Sure, the Big Ten may be playing footsie underneath the table with Notre Dame. But no one has said for sure whether the Big Ten will stop at 12 if it gets the Irish. Right or wrong, then, the pressure is on Osborne to make the decision that will shape the future of college athletics.

Go to the Big Ten and the Big 12 scatters to the four winds. Texas and five others have the supposed Pac-10 offer. Go to the Big Ten and the Big Ten probably expands to 14 or 16, wrecking the Big East.

Two conferences, gone. A lot of people out of work. It's all on you Osborne.

Tom Osborne's eventual expansion decision will affect the future of college athletics. (US Presswire)  
Tom Osborne's eventual expansion decision will affect the future of college athletics. (US Presswire)  
The problem is there is no clear right thing to do. Stay in the Big 12, and Texas could pull the same stuff and have a wandering eye in another three years. Stay in the Big 12, and the same distrust and rancor still exists. Can Nebraska get concessions from Texas (revenue, etc.)? Not likely. Remember, the 'Horns still have the hammer -- an offer from the Pac-10 that could pay Texas $20 million per year. And if Nebraska stays, who's to say Missouri doesn't go to the Big Ten next year after pledging to the Big 12 this summer?

That's the thing about Osborne. If he says the Huskers are in, they're in, it's in his character. The man followed Bob Devaney, making Nebraska football matter with class and pride. Now he's trying to save it with greed and deceit raging around him.

This is the man who was crucified after Lawrence Phillips dragged a woman down some stairs by her hair. The critics -- I was one of them -- wanted Phillips off the team. Osborne stuck by Phillips, eventually getting him back on the field. It was the wrong decision and Osborne knows that -- Phillips turned out to be a miscreant and a felon.

But the coach didn't keep Phillips around to win football games. At least that wasn't the primary intention. Osborne believed he could save Phillips, the person. He didn't and that still hurts Osborne.

Now there is more than a tailback at stake. Osborne and the administration are making what is potentially a forever decision. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany says the new Big Ten would be a marriage for the next 50 years.

The decision weighs heavy. Even Osborne has to know that if he endorsed those Camrys with bad brakes, the result would be Nebraskans alone boosting Toyota's stock price.

Is his decision, then, going to be Orange Bowl or Lawrence Phillips? Sure, that's making it sound somewhat simplistic. Texas has used its magic powers to put the future of the Big 12 on Nebraska. That's because Texas is going to fine no matter what happens. Nebraska? It has played the likes of Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State for more than 100 years. The Big 12, at least the North Division, feels comfortable. There is seemingly some sort of television windfall waiting out there if the league stays together.

Is there any right decision for Tom Osborne? If he was still wearing the headset, there would be an advantage to kicking that extra point.

There's always overtime.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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