Nebraska sports prepare for Big Ten switch

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Ross Grande (Left) and Spencer Johnson (Right) go head to head at wrestling practice.

Story,photos and video by Mariah Hutchinson.

The public eye may be firmly fixed on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s football team, but the switch to the Big Ten Conference will impact all of UNL’s 21 athletic teams. (Actually 23 UNL teams if indoor and outdoor track are separated.)

Based on this year’s top 25 national rankings, the breakdown looks like this when UNL starts play in the Big Ten Conference:

  • Six UNL teams will face a more challenging in-conference schedule.
  • Nine UNL teams will have about the same level of competition.
  • The remaining eight UNL teams will likely have it a little easier.

“It’s a challenge we are ready to face,” said UNL head women’s gymnastics coach Dan Kindig.

Women’s gymnastics is one of those six teams who will see stiffer competition.

“If you want to be a great team, you have to prepare yourself to compete with other great teams.” said Kindig.

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The women’s gymnastics team preps for their meet against ASU Sunday, March 6th.

Women’s gymnastics isn’t the only UNL team who will have to step up their Big Ten play. Swimming and diving currently compete against two top 25 teams in the Big 12 Conference. This year, the Big Ten had seven.

The most popular women’s sport at Nebraska, volleyball, will also take a hit. Claiming a conference title in the Big Ten will likely prove to be much harder, because teams like Penn State, Minnesota, Purdue, Indiana, Illinois, and Northwestern are ranked in the Top 25. Penn State has won the last four NCAA championships.

Some UNL teams will have it easier. The men and women’s outdoor track and field teams competed against six teams from the Big 12 ranked nationally. The Big Ten only has one. Softball will also experience an easier conference schedule. It will only face three nationally ranked Big Ten teams compared to the six in the Big 12. Men’s basketball will also have an easier schedule. Competition for the women’s basketball should remain about the same.

See video below: UNL softball team prepares for Big Ten competition.

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Playing in a more difficult conference can be both good and bad. Nebraska teams who face tougher opponents may either step up to the challenge and become more competitive, or accept defeat. Those whose conference schedule seems easier after the switch may seem to have it good, but keeping national attention will be the biggest factor in maintaining a competitive program.

The UNL baseball team may face that challenge. In the Big 12 conference, the baseball team faced four top 25 teams. The Big Ten currently has no team ranked in the top 25.

“I think we will have a good shot at winning conference next year and becoming nationally ranked.” said sophomore infielder Chad Christensen.

Men’s gymnastics will face teams such as Illinois, Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa; all ranked in the top 25. The Big 12 only had one team, Oklahoma, ranked number one in the nation this year.

UNL’s wrestling team is known for its dominating individual performances at the NCAA championships. It will probably face stronger competition in the Big Ten Conference where Penn State, Minnesota, and Iowa have claimed 13 of the last 17 national titles.

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Women’s basketball beats Missouri 76-34 on their February 22nd game.

Although some Big Ten sports may not have as many teams in the top 25, some may be ranked higher than Nebraska. UNL Associate Athletic Director Bob Burton oversees many of the Olympic sports in the athletic program and says the impact varies by team.

“From a football standpoint, for instance, it may prove to be a bigger challenge when it comes to winning a conference championship. Then you have teams like baseball where it appears they will likely be more successful since the Big Ten isn’t a strong baseball conference.” Burton said.

Although some UNL teams will have to reevaluate aspects of their sport based on Big Ten competition, UNL officials say they don’t expect the switch to have any negative effects.

“The switch will be a positive move, but could take some getting used to.” Burton said.

Teams Facing More Competition in the Big Ten:
• W Gymnastics
• W Swimming and Diving
• M Gymnastics
• W Volleyball
• M tennis
• Wrestling

Teams Facing Less Competition in the Big Ten:

• Baseball
• Football
• M golf
• W golf
• W Tennis
• Softball
• W Indoor T&F
• W Outdoor T&F
• M Outdoor T&F

Teams Facing the Same Competition in the Big Ten:
• W Bowling
• W Basketball
• W Rifle
• W Soccer
• M Basketball
• M CC
• W CC
• M Indoor T&F

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