Ted Carter’s departure puts Nebraska in compromised spot at inopportune time

LINCOLN, Neb. — Ted Carter is leaving Nebraska at the end of this year to take over as the president at Ohio State. And the timing, to be real, is grim for Nebraska, its athletic department and the football program.

Two months ago on Tuesday, the University of Nebraska Board of Regents voted to expand Carter’s oversight of Nebraska’s athletic department. As the president of four campuses in the statewide system, Carter took a deep interest in sports at the flagship institution.

With a new University of Nebraska-Lincoln chancellor, Rodney Bennett, incoming on July 1, the regents’ decision to place Carter as the direct supervisor of Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts and to hand the school’s seat on the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors to Carter looked like a powerful move.

But with the consolidation of power came concerns. And questions.

The publicly elected regents, to whom Carter reports, gained influence over Nebraska football with this shift. Were they assigning him too much control? What would happen when the 63-year-old Carter stepped down?

Well, it happened fast. The surprise news of his departure, effective Jan. 1, 2024, to take charge of another Big Ten school, leaves Nebraska and its structure of leadership in a compromised position at an inopportune moment.

As the winds of conference realignment swirl and uncertainty exists at every level of NCAA governance, Nebraska needs the type of stable leadership that Carter has offered. He served on the NCAA Board of Governors during his time as the superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy from 2014 to 2019.

Carter made a difference in athletics after his 2020 appointment in Nebraska. Without him, in fact, Nebraska may not have landed Alberts or football coach Matt Rhule.

Alberts, as the AD at Nebraska-Omaha, formed a strong relationship with Carter after the system president came to Nebraska. In 2021, Carter’s steady hand helped influence Alberts to move to Lincoln to take a position that he did not pursue to completion in 2017.

Carter loomed large as Alberts convinced Rhule to take a leap last fall. On Rhule’s clandestine October visit to Lincoln to connect with Alberts, they met with Carter at the AD’s home. Carter and Rhule discussed their history that dated to 2016, when Temple, coached by Rhule, beat Navy in the American Athletic Conference championship game.

Rhule impressed Carter. And vice versa.

“He’s been unbelievably supportive of me,” Rhule said of Carter in June. “He’s a big reason why I’m here and why I’m happy being here.”

So what now?

“We have great things ahead of us,” Alberts said in a statement.

Alberts and Rhule, however, must feel immense disappointment. It is an undeniably disappointing development that creates a vacuum of leadership at the highest level as the Huskers sit one week from the opening of the Rhule coaching era, Aug. 31 at Minnesota.

The school is finishing work on a $165 million football complex. On Monday, the locker room and some training areas opened to Nebraska players. The rest of the building will come online in the months ahead.

Alberts is set in October to unveil plans for a still-bigger endeavor to renovate Memorial Stadium. Carter’s clout and the respect he commands in this state could have aided Alberts in finding new sources of revenue to help fund the project. But now, the president is just serving out his final months.

The stadium renovation is a once-in-multiple-generations opportunity for Nebraska to reshape a major part of its campus that affects more than athletics. On the cusp of the project launch, to learn that the school is losing Carter rates as beyond disappointing for Nebraska.

“This is a special place, with special people, whose university is achieving great things for the state and the world,” Carter wrote Tuesday in a message to the University of Nebraska community.

Carter added that he and his wife, Lynda, made the decision, “knowing the University of Nebraska is in excellent hands.”

Still, his replacement in 2024 will walk into a tenuous spot. The first question, as related to Nebraska athletics, is this: Will the next president want oversight and involvement similar to Carter? Until last month, the UNL chancellor supervised the AD and sat on the Big Ten COP/C.

Perhaps Carter’s successor will prioritize continued growth and the advancement of research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

Of course, the regents are on record as saying they support the power structure that put the president in charge of athletics.

“Especially at the Power 5 level, today’s college athletics programs are large and highly complex entities, with enormous financial, legal and reputational implications for their entire institutions,” board chairman Tim Clare and vice chairman Rob Schafer wrote in May. “We’re in the midst of the most intense period of change in our lifetimes for college athletics.

“Nebraska needs to stay on the leading edge of this new normal.”

Clearly, the regents didn’t expect to navigate these waters so soon without Carter. Bennett, before he received the regents’ approval as chancellor, urged patience with the move to place Carter in charge of athletics in Lincoln.

“I think everybody should allow the process to sort of play out,” Bennett said in June, “see what happens, see what the nuances of the change might look like before we pass judgment about the value of it. Because there are a lot of things that we don’t yet know.”

Prophetic words. And the future, too, on Tuesday grew more uncertain.

(Photo of Trev Alberts (left), Ted Carter, Matt Rhule and Ronnie Green: Steven Branscombe / USA Today)

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