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Big volleyball crowd brings measure of redemption for college sports


Of all the places one might expect to go for absolution, it’s a fair bet that a volleyball match would be fairly low on the list. Yet, that’s exactly what happened last Wednesday at the University of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, though hardly any of the more than 92,000 people in the house realized that was what was happening at the time.

All they wanted was to see their beloved Cornhuskers play host to Omaha. And they got that, as five-time national champion Nebraska won in three sets.

But the crowd – the largest ever to see a women’s sporting event anywhere on Earth – did more than take in a volleyball match.

For one magical night, those players and that crowd helped in some small measure restore a note of nobility to college athletics, an industry sorely in need of cleansing.

In case you hadn’t heard – and if you haven’t, you haven’t been paying attention – the state of college sports resembles nothing less than a cesspool these days.

From one corner of the nation to the other, long-time relationships and commitments are being torn asunder all in the name of money, which seems to run afoul of the lofty goals we ascribe to the hallowed halls of academia.

In the latest chapter of the sad tale that college sports has woven in recent years, the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford, having been cast adrift by eight members of the Pac-12 Conference, jumped aboard the Atlantic Coast Conference for admittance next year. You heard correctly. Two San Francisco Bay area schools with outstanding academic reputations, as well as Southern Methodist University in Dallas joined an association of schools that are mostly within a three-hour drive of the Atlantic Ocean.

While Stanford and Cal are compatible academically with schools like Virginia, North Carolina, Duke and Georgia Tech, they have nothing in common with them geographically.

Yet, in the world that college athletics have devolved into, Bears and Cardinal and Cavaliers and Tar Heels and Blue Devils and Yellow Jackets are all neighbors.

Into that morass stepped the Nebraska-Omaha volleyball match. The Cornhusker program has been one of the shining jewels of college sports for decades.

In 46 years, the Nebraska volleyball team has racked up over 1,350 wins, with 34 conference titles and those aforementioned five national championships. It’s a legacy of achievement that sets the women of Lincoln apart.

And while those women have tasted success at the highest level of their sport and booming attendance at their indoor facility, the one thing they haven’t known is the feeling their football brethren have experienced regularly.

That would be the Tunnel Walk into the bowl of Memorial Stadium in Lincoln having 83,000, the stadium’s capacity, all clad in Nebraska red, screaming on their behalf.

And so they did, only the volleyball team was able to do the football squad 9,000 better, as temporary seats were placed on the field to boost the capacity higher.

College athletics has a long way to go to restore normalcy and decency after the cash grabs of the last few years. But for one warm August night in 2023, a big house on the prairie played host to a little dignity.

And that’s how I see it for this week. You can reach us via email with your questions and comments at Sports at Large at gmail.com. And follow me on Threads and Twitter at Sports at Large.

Until next week, for all of us here, I’m Milton Kent. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games.

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.