Winning championships in the shadow of Husker football

The Nebraska football team hasn’t won a national championship in 18 years. But since then, seven Husker teams and 37 individuals have gained national championship status.

To most people the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is still known as a football school, but athletes have noticed UNL’s national status in the smaller sports.

“I wanted to go somewhere where the bowling was good because I like to win, and Nebraska is definitely at the top of that list,” Julia Bond said.

Julia Bond, member of the 2015 National Champion Huskers Bowling Team

Bond, a freshman from Aurora, Illinois, won Most Valuable Player for the Nebraska bowling team in its recent NCAA National Championship match. Bowling has only been an NCAA sport since 2003, but their 2015 victory is already the team’s fifth national championship.

But even the best team in the country doesn’t get too many people to watch.

According to Bond, it’s usually just parents that attend tournaments, but she’s still happy with the amount attention the team gets.

“There’s always people talking on Twitter. Most of the conversations are with other athletes, but people do know, and it’s been nice that people are aware,” she said.

Bowling may be one of the best Husker team sports, but individuals are winning too.

Rachel Martin, a sophomore at UNL from Peralta, New Mexico, recently won a national championship in smallbore rifle. Martin believes that if people had more knowledge about her sport, more would watch.

“It’s not exactly a spectator sport,” she said. “People really have to know what’s going on to enjoy rifle,” Martin said.

Facilities also may be part of the reason not many fans watch. Spectators at a rifle match have to watch on television screens located in an old gym two rooms away from the range. Football fans get a little better environment.

And then there’s the money. Memorial Stadium had a total attendance of almost 800,000 last year, and its annual operating expenses of almost $7.5 million are about 20 times the rifle team’s yearly budget. The electrician for the stadium only makes a few thousand dollars less per year than the rifle team’s head coach.

But the money from football fans more than covers the stadium and sport’s expenses. Its budget of $18 million is easily the highest of any sport, but revenue from the 2014-2015 season was more than $55 million.

Money generated by the football program is also the reason that UNL has one of the only seven self-sustaining athletic departments in the country, which means sports like rifle and bowling exist without needing any public subsidy money.

So even if football does get a lot of recognition, it seems the sport has earned it.

Athletes like Martin aren’t too concerned about the lack of attention though.

“In rifle, it’s more about the satisfaction that you know what you did rather than everyone else”

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