Amid increasing debate over whether Doc Sadler should keep his job once Nebraska misses the NCAA tournament for a 14th straight season, a prominent Huskers booster took out a full page ad in Sunday's Omaha World-Herald in defense of the embattled coach.
Neal Hawks questioned if Sadler should be blamed for his inability to turn Nebraska into a winner when the Husker administration's' financial commitment to basketball ranks last among the Big Ten's 12 schools. The $4.1 million Nebraska spent on basketball in 2010 per the Office of Postsecondary Education even lags well behind the $5.03 million nearby Creighton spent that same year.
"I'm not great at math but that looks like we spent almost 25% less on Men's Basketball than Creighton did," Hawks wrote. "Our supposed "little brother" athletically, at least in some of our minds. And we wonder why men's basketball is floundering at UNL."
There are a few problems with the figures Hawks cites. First of all, studies on spending in college athletics are notoriously inaccurate because every athletic department categorizes its expenditures differently, making comparing who spent what almost a fruitless task. Secondly, there is absolutely no chance Northwestern is first in the Big Ten and fourth nationally in basketball spending because otherwise dozens of people in that athletic department would have been fired.
In spite of those flaws in Hawks' argument, however, his larger point is a good one — and one that local media and frustrated fans have been making for years. One of the biggest reasons Nebraska has gone 62 years without a conference title and 13 years without an NBA draft pick is because the Huskers have lagged behind their peers in everything from facilities to coaching salaries to recruiting budget.
Although the soon-to-open new arena and practice facility is definitely significant progress, there's more that needs to be done to help Nebraska compete on a level playing field with its Big Ten peers.
According to the World-Herald, Sadler's $900,000 per year salary ranks him 11th in the Big Ten, ahead of only first-year Penn State coach Patrick Chambers. The World-Herald reports that Sadler's three assistants made a combined $379,000 two years ago, which was less than the annual salary of Kansas State lead assistant Dalonte Hill at the time. Additionally, if Hawks is correct that the Nebraska staff doesn't have access to a charter plane for recruiting purposes, that's another significant disadvantage compared to other major conference programs.
The question now facing Nebraska is two-fold: Do the Huskers want to increase spending in basketball in an effort to be more competitive? And if so, does that mean seeing what Sadler can do with a greater budget or starting fresh with a new coaching staff?
Sadler came to Nebraska with a good reputation in 2006 after leading UTEP to back-to-back 20-win seasons, but he has yet to get the Huskers above .500 in either the Big 12 or the Big Ten. Though he remains highly respected for his Xs and Os and ability to squeeze the most out of the talent on his roster, he has been unable to lure top prospects to Lincoln in his tenure.
Maybe that changes once Nebraska's new arena opens. Maybe that changes if the Huskers splurge for a top assistant with strong recruiting ties in the Midwest. Maybe Sadler simply isn't innovative enough to succeed in a job that has always been one of college basketball's toughest.
Those are the dilemmas Nebraska must solve before its long-struggling program can move forward out of mediocrity.
- Doc Sadler