Seems YCS's old friend Mike Hunt is up to his old tricks. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's unfortunately named columnist has stated that Wisconsin must not sell its soul for BCS glory. Without a doubt, the transformation of University of Wisconsin athletics over the last two decades has been remarkable. But like Lenny in Memento, Hunt seems to have forgotten a few things along the way.
"Face it, Wisconsin has what a lot of schools would commit various crimes and misdemeanors for: For the most part, the Badgers recruit good citizens, take academics more seriously than most public institutions, don't get in trouble with the NCAA, fill an 80,000-seat stadium and win."
This is pretentious at best and selectively forgetful at worst. At the very least, it's a generous use of "For the most part." Hunt goes on to elaborate how UW faces a unique set of challenges including academic eligibility/recruiting to a northern climate, etc.
Good citizens? Yes. As much as I hate the Badger sports teams, most of the people I know who went there are fine, upstanding individuals. At least, the ones that I know went there and weren't students through the magic of photoshop. However, UW has had its fair share of problems over the past few years in keeping its players out of trouble with the law. While problems like this surface at every school, it's laughable for Hunt to claim UW student-athletes as a paragon of virtue that hampers their recruiting efforts. The Athletic department has been hit with similar problems and has only recently gotten off of probation.
As for academics, forgive me if I don't realize this because I only spent 3 1/2 years in the Dairy State as a proud member of the hated Jesuit school down the street, but while UW-Madison is above and beyond the best public university in Wisconsin, are its academic standards really that much more demanding than any other state school with a big-time football program? More so than Ohio State? Than Michigan? Than USC? Than Florida?
Is the climate in Madison that much different than other powers with similar issues? Madison is at about the same line of latitude as Flint, Michigan. Flint is about a 45-minute drive north of apparently tropical Ann Arbor. Follow the line east, and you'll find Manchester, NH, only about an hour outside of Boston; home to a BC team that has a pretty strong emphasis on academics, has to deal with New England winters, and somehow made it to the ACC Championship game. Madison is actually farther SOUTH than Eugene, Oregon, who a few weeks ago had their Ducks in the National Championship hunt.
Combining climate and academics, Notre Dame also deals with a northern wintry climate, and while the Irish are on the downturn now, and perhaps annually overrated, ND has done what has been needed to get into three BCS bowls (2001, 2006, 2007), which at the moment, is one more than Wisconsin. While I won't be audacious enough to claim that at Notre Dame, all the players are budding geniuses and there's no way any of them were brought in primarily for their football playing ability, I won't be like Hunt and claim that such is the case at UW, and that their academic standards are the Badgers' cross to bear alone.
But the bottom line may come in that UW is not a national elite power because UW is barely...or not even a CONFERENCE power. UW has not beaten Michigan and Ohio State in the same season since 1981. While Big Ten scheduling difficulties have played a part in that in recent years, UW has had many opportunities to take on both traditional powerhouses in the same season. Even in many of the campaigns where they only played one or the other, failed to beat that one. Without at least one quality win in conference, UW will not be able to compete nationally with Floridas, Ohio States, and Texases. However, there were plenty of nonconference resume padders against San Diego State and UNLV in that span though...
It's no secret that Michigan-Ohio State is THE GAME for the Big Ten every year. At times it seems the other games just lead up to it. It's probably why the game is played on the last weekend of the season instead of in August or September. Even when the Conference Champion turns out to be someone other than Michigan or Ohio State (Northwestern in 1995 comes to mind), the game has a pivotal role to play in its outcome. Wisconsin has only won one Big Ten title outright since JFK was shot (1999), and shared two others (1993 and 1998). This puts them in the same Big 10 title eschelon as Northwestern (outright title in 1995, shared in 1996 and 2000). Until Wisconsin can regularly add its name to the Old Firm mix of Michigan and Ohio State, they will be forever playing third fiddle.