Former University of Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne told the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday that while some might say college athletics have deteriorated over time, in some ways they "have never been better."
The 76-year-old Osborne was head coach at Nebraska for 25 years, winning three national championships in four years from 1994-97. The Hastings, Neb., native spent his entire coaching career with the Cornhuskers, starting as an offensive assistant in 1964, being named offensive coordinator in 1969 and taking over the program in 1973 on his way to 255 career wins.
Osborne entertained the crowd of about 300 with jokes and stories of his national title years with the Cornhuskers, particularly the 1997 Orange Bowl, joking about Peyton Manning and his own team that season.
The coaching great also shared his thoughts on collegiate athletics today, saying that while some "would have you think it's worse," in some ways, college sports have improved. For example, Osborne said, he was the only athletic academic counselor for the Cornhuskers while he was an assistant, something that isn't the case now, with entire staffs on hand to help players academically.
He also noted that today, academics are better policed and athletes have more options toward obtaining degrees.
Osborne added that strength and training in modern college athletics have much improved over his playing and coaching days.
He also talked ethics in the game, noting that the demise of the Southwest Conference was keyed by improper benefits given to players and that those situations have led to tougher sanctions against teams that cheat heavily.
"As far as ethics and honesty, [there have been] tremendous changes," Osborne said.
Later Osborne added that he doesn't believe players should be paid, due to the fact that workmen's compensation issues could arise, but he does believe a portion of the stadium attendance revenues should be included into a player's scholarship.
But, he said, while hundreds of millions of dollars are in play with college athletics, players still don't benefit. "The players are left behind so badly," Osborne said. "...The players are at best, no better off than they were in 1962."
In addition to the three national titles, Osborne won 13 conference titles in the Big 8 and Big 12, was named Big 8 Coach of the Year seven times and national coach of the year in 1994.
As a player, Osborne was a standout quarterback at Hastings High School and Hastings College before playing three years in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins as a wide receiver.
Read more about this story in tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.