But that simply didn't happen in a meaningful manner over the next decade (despite some "sellout" promotions and other efforts to bring in larger crowds for hockey).
That's not to suggest there weren't benefits to the move, and we all know that on-ice successes (in the form of NCAA tournament appearances in 2006 and 2011) helped the overall prestige of the program.
Despite everything positive that Omaha's arena and convention center brought to our community, there was still a wistful longing to see the UNO Hockey program playing in a more intimate environment.
During the early seasons at the Qwest Center, UNO would play a lone series at the Civic Auditorium (when the QCO hosted the high school wrestling championship).Those series served as a reminder of the energy that a UNO Hockey game could bring, and reminded attendees that the venue could add a certain intangible element to a team's on-ice success.
Trouble Brewing on Dodge Street
In hindsight, we should have known trouble was brewing at UNO back in August of 2004. UNO Athletic Director Bob Danenhauer decided to resign as AD, and take a job with Omaha Public Schools, the coordinator of athletics and supervisor of physical education.
Danenhauer suggested to the Omaha World-Herald at the time that he wanted to cut back on his workload.
While the reasoning was certainly understandable, it appears in the historical perspective to have been a precursor to the financial troubles percolating within the athletic department at the time. The oft cited western-movie reference "Get Out of Dodge" seems particularly appropriate. While Sapp Fieldhouse was no Dodge City, KS, there was something afoot on our bucolic Dodge Street campus.
Everything would come to a head in 2006, and would push forward both the notion that UNO should play in an on-campus arena, and move athletics to Division I.
Dark Times in UNO Athletics
A July 15, 2006 piece in the Omaha World-Herald by Henry Cordes and Rob White exposed both financial problems and improprieties within UNO Athletics.
The Nebraska University system launched an investigation into UNO Athletics after prominent boosters expressed concerns about previously unknown budget shortfalls and positions being eliminated within the department.
Some were even concerned at there was an under-the-table move by Chancellor Nancy Belck to dismantle athletics. The more salient issue was the fact that lavish expenses by Jim Buck (a vice chancellor who had followed Belck to UNO) were piling up, and athletic booster money funded his bills during a time of economic crisis.
Cordes reported on these expenses in the Sept. 8, 2006 issue of the Omaha World-Herald:
When a top aide to UNO Chancellor Nancy Belck traveled to a university administrators conference in Baltimore a year ago, the extra bills piled up.
Vice Chancellor Jim Buck spent $301 so that his wife, Joyce, could fly along with him.
They ate dinner together nightly at some of the city's finest restaurants, spending $226 for a meal at an elegant eatery that featured tuxedoed waiters, fresh-cut flowers and well padded chairs. They spent an average of $153 each of their five nights out.
They teed it up at a Pete Dye-designed golf course considered one of the nation's best, at a cost of $270. On an outing with a guest, they spent $59 on "refreshments.''
Then Buck charged it all to the university's financially troubled athletic department. The trip's expenses are typical of what The World-Herald found when examining newly released records of spending from an athletic booster account by UNO's former No. 2 administrator.
Buck last month resigned his $197,500-a-year post in the wake of World-Herald revelations about his perks and expenses paid by the University of Nebraska at Omaha athletic department, which in recent years has run annual deficits of more than $1 million.
The University of Nebraska's central administration in Lincoln is auditing UNO athletic finances and Buck's expenses. The audit's findings are expected to be presented to the NU Board of Regents today.
Although the full scope of the university audit isn't known, it is almost sure to cite a lack of oversight in how Buck spent athletic department money.
The newly obtained records detail spending that went far beyond the $713-a-month Cadillac lease and the $440-a-month country club dues that Belck previously disclosed. In all, the spending totaled more than $140,000 over five years.
Travel by Buck and his wife, golf outings and expensive dinners appear frequently in the records, including some dinners attended by Belck and her husband.
Joyce Buck flew with her husband at athletic department expense to more than a dozen conferences and business meetings, including trips to Alaska and Hawaii.
Among other costs that Buck billed to the athletic department: a $100 Ducks Unlimited banquet; $350 for membership in United Airlines' Red Carpet Club; $1,000 tickets for Buck and his wife to attend a special dinner for the grand opening of the Holland Performing Arts Center; $1,750 for an office holiday party; satellite radio and OnStar computer mapping services for his leased 2004 Cadillac DeVille; and two trips for him and his wife to the NCAA basketball Final Four.
Buck has not returned repeated phone calls from The World-Herald.
Apparently no one was watching over Buck's spending.
UNO athletic officials say they felt they couldn't question the vice chancellor's expenses, given his oversight role over athletics. For years, UNO's athletic director reported directly to Buck.
"We just had to pass it through,'' Athletic Director David Herbster said.
Officials with the UNO Alumni Association, which controlled the bank account of booster dollars from which Buck spent, likewise said they did not feel they could question his spending. They would make payment as long as he documented what he spent.
UNO Chancellor Belck said she was not aware of all of Buck's expenses. In hindsight, she said, it's clear that there was a lack of oversight.
NU President J.B. Milliken has informed Belck that the university will develop new procedures for reviewing expenses by vice chancellors and chancellors.
"I didn't see any of these until just recently," Belck said, "and there's clearly going to be some changes in the policy.''
Belck said all her meals with Buck that were cited in the records were for legitimate purposes, including discussing university issues and meeting with potential donors.Buck, who followed Belck to UNO from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, previously had his car lease and country club dues paid from Belck's discretionary account, which is funded by the private NU Foundation.
In 2001, to free up more money in that account, Belck and Buck transferred those expenses to an account in athletics funded by hockey booster donations.
After Belck confirmed in July that Buck's perks were being paid for by athletics, The World-Herald requested a complete accounting of all of Buck's expenditures from athletic funds.
Belck and Buck ultimately resigned, and the entire affair left a bad aftertaste that the university has been working to remedy for nearly a decade. Many of the positive changes -- along with greater transparency -- is a result of that period in UNO's history.The silver lining to the cloud was the fact that the NU Board of Regents had appointed former U.S. Senator David Karnes to head up a commission to look into UNO Athletics as part of the 2006 investigation.
A story on Sept. 9, 2006 by Cordes in the World-Herald outlines the commission's thoughts on a new home for UNO Hockey:
His commission called for $250,000 in additional marketing funding for each of the next five years in an effort to fill more seats at the Qwest Center Omaha, the 16,000-seat home that Maverick hockey moved into three years ago.
But he said the ultimate goal should be for the University of Nebraska at Omaha to build a privately funded, on-campus arena that is more intimately sized like the Mavs' former, 8,000-seat home at the Civic Auditorium.
Karnes said the new facility, which would be located on the former Chili Greens golf course off Center Street, is still mostly "a dream'' in concept.
He had no timetable or estimated cost, but he said preliminary indications are that it could be done.
You have to invest money in order to receive a return,'' Karnes told the regents. "We believe that must be done with hockey.''Karnes's sentiments were really the first "official" instance where serious discussions of an on-campus arena were set forth. It was a concept fans had been discussing in the hypothetical for years, but this was the first time it seemed to have some actual teeth.
It's interesting to consider that without the turmoil of 2006, we might not have opened a new arena this fall.