Chancellor: Financial sustainability behind move to Division I athletics


By Michael Wunder, News Editor

The decision to recommend reclassifying UNO to Division I athletics to the Board of Regents was based on financial sustainability, said UNO Chancellor John Christensen. The proposed move would eliminate football and wrestling.

Christensen, along with UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts, held a press conference Sunday afternoon at the Thompson Alumni Center to explain the process behind the difficult recommendation.

“There is no close second,” Christensen told a crowd of reporters.  “This is the most difficult decision I’ve had to make in my life.”

UNO received an invitation March 11 for membership to the Summit League, a Division I conference attractive to UNO in terms of geography, peer institutions and the opportunity for competitive success, according to an Intercollegiate Athletics Feasibility Report issued by UNO this month.

The recommendation to join the league was based on establishing UNO as a major metropolitan university by 2020 as well as increasing athletic revenue.

Although the Summit League gave no deadline, UNO felt the need to act quickly.

“This opportunity, when presented, forced us into some very quick decision making,” Alberts said.

Such quick decisions led to cutting two athletic programs.

Alberts said the football program has been a drain on the University’s finances, costing the institution $1.7 million annually while failing to bring in significant revenue.

“We simply could not afford football at a Division II level.”  Alberts said.  “We assuredly could not afford it at Division I-AA.”

Wrestling is also unlikely to sustain success in Division I, according to the feasibility report, as fewer grants-in-aid would be awarded to the program if it were to move up a division. 

The decision to cut the wrestling program was difficult for Christensen, a former wrestler.

“I am a football fan,” he said.  “But I am in love [with] wrestling.”

Christensen, though, said he was “incredibly excited” for this opportunity, which will bring UNO closer to becoming a major university and will bring new opportunities to campus.

Men’s and women’s basketball, soccer and women’s volleyball all have potential to be championship programs in the Summit League, according to the feasibility report.

Student-athletes and coaches affected by the decision will not be cast aside, Christensen said.  UNO will do all it can to support athletes and coaches who may be left behind by the move to the Summit League.  All student-athlete scholarships awarded to students participating in eliminated programs will be honored, and if students choose to transfer, the university will help make their transitions as smooth as possible, according to Christensen.

In his closing remarks, Christensen said the decision to make the recommendation to the Board of Regents fell on him alone. Alberts only did the work to present a full financial, academic and institutional picture.

“Ownership of the ultimate decision is mine,” he said.

Although it was a difficult decision, Christensen said it was the right one.

“On a personal level, it’s been a struggle,” he said.  “On a professional and administrative level, I need to tell you, it was a straightforward decision.”


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