It is the end of the school year, but the hot takes never end.
Let’s hear it for the ladies.
With the end of the Nebraska baseball and softball seasons, the 2021-2022 Huskers athletic year is 99% complete.
Much has been said and written about Nebraska’s disappointing seasons in the three biggest men’s sports. Yes, some of the men’s teams (wrestling, track & field, and gymnastics) had strong seasons, but those were overshadowed by the big losses of the big three. But I’m not interested in dwelling on that.
Instead, let’s focus on the ones carrying the banner for Husker athletics. The ones who have given Husker fans thrills, unprecedented success, and championship aspirations all year long: the ladies.
From top to bottom, the Husker women set a standard of excellence, one that we as fans should recognize and applaud. Let’s start at the top:
- Volleyball. National runner-up that took an absolutely stacked Wisconsin team to a winner-take-all fifth set. John Cook’s program remains the standard for the entire department. NU had the conference’s Freshman of the Year (Lexi Rodriguez).
- Softball. They won 18 straight, won the Big Ten Tournament, put up their best record (41-16) since 2014, and qualified for the NCAA tournament. NU had the conference’s Freshman of the Year (Ava Bredwell). Rhonda Revelle’s renaissance is something to behold.
- Basketball. A 24-9 record, played in the conference tournament semifinals, and made the NCAA tournament. NU had the conference’s Freshman of the Year (Alexis Markowski). Their best days are ahead of them.
- Bowling. Bowl Big Red was unable to repeat as National Champions, losing in the finals of their regional. You know the standard of success is high when that can be perceived as a “down year.”
- Gymnastics. Heather Brink’s squad finished sixth at the Big Ten Championships. Huskers Clara Colombo and Kinsey Davis qualified for the NCAA Regionals and each posted career high scores.
- Track & field. During the indoor season, the women finished in a tie for seventh at the Big Ten championships, and tied for 47th at the NCAA Championships. For the outdoor season, the ladies finished fifth at the Big Ten championship, and qualified 17 athletes for the NCAA Championship meet, to be held May 25-28.
- Golf. Kristen Baete finished fourth at the Big Ten Championship, shooting one under par for the tournament. The team finished seventh. Baete qualified for the NCAA regionals, where she set a school record for the best round in a regional (69) en route to a 30th place finish.
- Tennis. The Huskers finished 15-10 overall and lost in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.
- Soccer. The female footballers finished below .500 but ended the season on a three-match winning streak. Twenty-one (21!) members of the soccer team earned Academic All-Big Ten honors in 2021. That is 60% of the roster.
- Cross country. The ladies finished 11th in the Big Ten and ninth in the NCAA Midwest Regional. Senior Erika Freyhof qualified for her second straight NCAA Championship, finishing in the middle of the pack.
- Rifle. The team finished fifth in the six-team Patriot Rifle Conference championships. Captain Cecelia Ossi finished ninth at the NCAA Championships in the individual smallbore competition.
2021-2022 was a year to remember for the Nebraska female athletes.
• • •
Three thoughts (and a question) about how Nebraska baseball’s season ended.
As you likely know, Nebraska baseball’s season ended abruptly when they failed to quality – by percentage points – for the Big Ten tournament in Omaha. The Huskers could have made it in if Purdue lost to conference champion Maryland on Saturday. With rain in the forecast – but not falling from the sky – the Boilermakers kept the tarp on their field and canceled the game.
Here are three things I believe about the situation, and a question to chew on.
1) Purdue likely gamed the system to make it to the Big Ten tournament.
I say “likely” because I can’t prove anything. I’m not a meteorologist, I wasn’t in West Lafayette last weekend, and I don’t know what conversations were had among Purdue’s coaches and administration. If Purdue needed to get this game played, would it have been played? I think we all know the answer.
Personally, I don’t blame the Boilermakers for taking the sure thing. College athletics – even in non-revenue Olympic sports – are a results-based business. I’m sure Purdue’s coach would much rather be in the conference tournament than watch it on TV. That’s better for his job security, recruiting, and maybe salary bonuses. Five years from now, few will remember how they made the tournament – just that they got in.
We can decry their (presumed) cowardice and (alleged) disrespect for the game, but trying to beat a 44-10 Maryland team scheduled to start their ace would have been a tall order.
2) The Big Ten’s overall apathy toward college baseball played a big part in allowing #1 to happen.
News flash: The Big Ten Conference doesn’t care about baseball. I think collectively the league’s schools care more than they did when Nebraska joined the conference. But I struggle to find anything from the conference that indicates baseball rises above “other duties as assigned” for anybody in the league office.
I’m not saying the conference should mandate/dictate weather delays. The schools need that control to maintain the safety of their fans and the condition of their facilities. But wouldn’t it be nice if the conference had a sport-specific director or deputy commissioner whose job is to oversee a specific sport and identify situations like this ahead of time? Then, they could work with the schools to find solutions.
I’m not saying a Big Ten Baseball Czar would – or should – force the Boilermakers and Maryland to play. But I am saying that without somebody in Chicago whose job is to give a crap about baseball, situations like this are more likely to happen again.
3) Nebraska only has themselves to blame for letting #1 and #2 out of their control.
Let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room. Nebraska baseball lost fourteen (14!) league games. For most of the year, they struggled to get timely hits: nine of the losses were by two runs or less. They struggled to pitch: In eight of their conference losses, they gave up eight or more runs. They lost two conference games in extra innings. They were 3-5 in the final games of a conference series.
You don’t have to like what Purdue (presumably) did, or that the Big Ten was too apathetic to notice/do anything about it.
But it doesn’t change the fact that Nebraska had ample opportunities to control their destiny throughout the season and could not get it done. I respect Will Bolt for owning that fact and using it as a teaching moment for his team.
Question: What would you want Nebraska to do if the situation were reversed?
Would you want NU to play, knowing that a loss would keep them home? Would you defend their choice if they winked and said the forecast didn’t look good?
From what I know about Bolt – as a player, coach, and competitor – he would want to play. I’d point to the Huskers waiting out a ridiculously long rain delay in Champaign, Illinois, a week ago to finish a 4-4 game as proof of that.
Of course, it is worth noting that if the Huskers and Illini had agreed to call it a tie, the Huskers would be in the Big Ten tournament. Instead, the Illini scored a walk-off win on two hits and a fielding error. The Huskers can still go to the tournament, but they’ll need to buy a ticket.
I suspect they won’t have any trouble finding a seat.
• • •
Tom Shatel agrees that Nebraska should consider membership in multiple conferences.
In his “First downs and second guesses” column, the Omaha World-Herald’s Tom Shatel makes the case for college baseball realignment to regional conferences. He looks at what happened at Purdue, as well as how Creighton lost the chance the claim a share of the Big East regular season title because of weather, flights and a conference foe that doesn’t appear to care about baseball. (Sound familiar?)
Shatel argues for a regional baseball conference for NU, Creighton, Iowa, UNO and other teams within a reasonable bus ride of each other.
I love the idea.
I’ve been advocating for it for years.
I’ve written about it twice – once back in 2013 and again last year when the Big Ten decided to go conference games only for baseball.
I think teams like Nebraska should belong to two (or more) athletic conferences:
- A national, power conference for football and men’s basketball. Think the Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Big XII, and Pac-12. A basketball-only school like Creighton would still belong to the Big East. This is your cash cow.
- One (or more) regional conferences for Olympic & non-revenue sports. The majority would belong to the same regional league, but there may be situations where not everybody in the region has that sport (i.e., hockey) or there is an incentive or competitive reason to play elsewhere (i.e., Nebraska volleyball in the Big Ten)
My argument has always been primarily based on two indisputable facts:
- In normal times, it is asinine – and fiscally irresponsible – to fly a 25+ student-athletes 1,200 miles to play a baseball series at Rutgers, when there are a dozen schools within a three-hour drive. When athletic departments are laying off employees and cutting sports, it is indefensible.
- FOX and ESPN aren’t paying billions of dollars for the TV rights to air regular-season collegiate Olympic sports. Bluntly, and with few exceptions, nobody is watching.
Here is what I wrote way back in 2013:
It just makes financial sense: Schools can dramatically cut travel costs and operating expenses for sports that already lose money. TV networks don’t get burdened with a bunch of lower end TV rights for volleyball matches, wrestling duals, and gymnastics meets that the average fan does not want to watch. If there is an audience for SEC baseball or Big East lacrosse games, the smaller leagues can sell those rights independently.
Yes, it may be a little confusing for fans who have always identified their school with a single league to have to familiarize themselves with two different sets of conference rivals, but it sure beats cutting the baseball team because your new conference foes up north don’t play the sport, or losing the gymnastics team because it is too expensive to fly them all over the country for meets.
Five years ago, I would have said this was a fantasy. But now, with the Power 5 college football teams poised to break off from the NCAA, I could see it happening. Because at the end of the day, nobody wants to lose money.