NIU courting of Big Eight denied

By David Lance

NIU’s president and athletic director said an item in Monday’s Chicago Tribune, stating that the school is looking into joining the Big Eight Conference, was exaggerated.

Mike Conklin, a sports columnist for the paper, wrote that at Friday’s NIU Hall of Fame banquet, “NIU President John La Tourette unloaded this bombshell: The Huskies want to become members of the Big Eight Conference.

“Northern AD Gerald O’Dell confirmed that entrance into the high-profile Big Eight—pending the league’s expected loss of several school’s to other conferences—is a definite plan being explored by Northern.”

“(The story’s) gotten a lot of attention,” La Tourette said. “What I said was if you look at the academic quality of NIU, we really belong in the Big Eight.

“This was just some offhand remark I made. The (athletic) program has grown a great deal. I was trying to make people feel good.

“My comment was, basically, here’s where we belong, here’s some things to think about. I didn’t imply that we have been plotting to do this.”

O’Dell said he hasn’t talked to Big Eight officials.

“Not about conference affiliation,” O’Dell said. “Any comments I made were apparently taken out of context.

“Those are things way down the road. We’re pleased to be in the Mid-Continent Conference.”

Conklin stands by what he wrote.

“If you heard the speech that Mr. La Tourette gave … all the people I talked to afterward (including O’Dell), said Northern was studying the possibility of getting into the Big Eight Conference,”