Move changes little for Nebraska
Huskers’ already strong schedule gets tougher in Big Ten
Ferrari or Lamborghini? Mozart or Beethoven? The Alps or Hawaii?
Big 12 or Big Ten?
As far as Division I collegiate wrestling goes, the competition level of both conferences is at the top of the ladder.
Consider this: Not since 1988 has a team from outside the Big 12 or Big Ten won an NCAA Championship in Division I. Factor in the old Big Eight and you have to go back to 1950 when Northern Iowa earned top honors under Hall of Fame coach Dave McCluskey.
Since the first NCAA Championship in 1928, Big Ten schools have claimed 29 team titles -- Penn State's 1953 title came as a member of the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Conference. Big 12, and previously Big Eight schools, have won 49 crowns. That leaves Cornell (Iowa) College, UNI and Arizona State as the only programs outside the big leagues to win team titles since the first NCAA meet.
In June of 2010, the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors unanimously approved a move that would bring Nebraska from the Big 12 to the Big Ten. The change of leagues means a different schedule for Cornhusker wrestling. But when it comes to the yearly grind of competing in a top league there is no difference.
"We're one of the sports where we do know what we're getting ourselves into," Nebraska head coach Mark Manning told the Lincoln-Journal Star this summer. "We've wrestled so many Big Ten schools -- Minnesota nearly every year, Iowa at the National Duals and we've had duals with Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan in the last few years.
"It's not going to be tremendously different for us when it comes to facing good programs. To me, it's just another team out there that's going to line up in front of us."
The regular season, as usual for NU, includes a solid build-up for the second semester. December will see a trip to the Las Vegas Invitational and duals with Arizona State and Boise State. From Jan. 6 to Feb. 5, it's nothing but Big Ten foes with Iowa visiting Lincoln on Jan. 13 and 2011 NCAA champion Penn State heading to Nebraska on Feb. 3.
Perhaps the biggest difference will be the conference tournament. The then-five-team Big 12 Conference conducted a one-day event. Most athletes wrestled a maximum of four bouts, but usually just two.
The Big Ten postseason means a student-athlete might wrestle as many as seven matches across two days. And national rankings usually show a handful of top-level wrestlers at every weight class.
Manning's 2011 Big 12 squad finished fourth at the league meet and 12th at the NCAAs two weeks later.
"Without a doubt it's a different conference tournament," Manning said. "It's going to prepare you for nationals, not that the Big 12s didn't because the finals [at the Big 12s] are sometimes the national semifinals or finals. The last couple of years, look at 197 pounds. Our conference has just five teams but the top two guys in the country were in the same bracket.
"You are going to get challenged every match in the Big 12 or Big Ten."
What Manning does like is the added exposure of the Big Ten Network.
"The Big Ten Network is huge for wrestling and all the Olympic Sports," Manning said. "When we recruit kids, their families know that, if they can't come to Lincoln to see them wrestle, they're going to be seen more on TV. And with the wealth of wrestling talent in Big Ten country -- not all of it, but the majority -- that's going to help us recruit."
So what's the prognosis in year one?
Manning cannot and will not replace two-time NCAA champion Jordan Burroughs, who continued his solid 2011 campaign by making the United States World Team in freestyle at 163 pounds. Burroughs beat Oklahoma's Tyler Caldwell, a two-time All-American, in the 165-pound NCAA final last March.
Nebraska also lost 2011 125-pound Big 12 champion David Klingsheim who, with two years of eligibility remaining, left the team and 197-pound senior Andy Johnson will also have to be replaced.
Josh Ihnen (184) and Tucker Lane (285) each advanced to the final 12 at the 2011 NCAA Championships and combined to win 50-plus matches. Lane is a three-time NCAA qualifier.
The rest of the lineup will be tested significantly once January rolls around. Outside of Burroughs, Ihnen and Lane, the other three Huskers in Philadelphia -- including Klingsheim, Ridge Kiley (133) and Michael Koehnlein (141) -- combined to go 1-6. Kiley is the only one who returns for 2011-12.
Nebraska took plenty of body blows during its Big 12 and Big Eight existence. In the land of the Big Ten those body blows are just as firm, and there are a lot more of them.