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  • What Wisconsin Football Is

       September 06, 2010

    In the reaction to the new Big Ten divisions my sister said:

    Football is more than winning a conference championship. If it wasn't, the Wisconsin program would have died off long ago.

    I love that. I know it's hard to believe, but college football is not just about conference championships, the BCS and money. Really! College football is about fun and tradition and the game day experience. It's the most obvious way that, as an alum, you reconnect with your university each fall.

    The reason I'm so upset by the Big Ten divisional alignment is that it was a slap in the face to Wisconsin's rivalries and traditions. It starkly highlights what really matters to the powers that be. And, what really matters to them is far removed from what I think Wisconsin football is about.

    Wisconsin football isn't really about winning. That may sound absurd and self defeating, but stay with me here for a moment. Wisconsin football, like the Wisconsin Idea, is a way to connect the people of the State to the university. We use the Wisconsin football experience to express our culture to the world.

    So sure, part of that culture involves the occasional three-story beer bong, but it's not just about being drunk (no really!). Wisconsin fans, unlike, it seems, the Big Ten, aren't too serious about college football. In the midst of their story about the 1993 crush vs. Michigan, Sports Illustrated related the following story which perfectly describes what Wisconsin football is about:

    Add to that the Wisconsin school's long-established reputation for partying and irreverence. Consider that in 1979 the Badger band and fans stormed the field at an away game against Michigan State, a 55-2 loss; tore down the goalpost; and paraded around while chanting, "We scored first!"

    And even as the teams got better, that spirit of irreverence has remained. Witness the "Matt Unertl Game"

    For the uninitiated, when Ron Dayne played for the Badgers the PA would exaggerate his name: "Ron Daaaaaaaayne". The crowd got in the habit of chanting it back. Post-Dayne, the crowd somehow decided to do the same when senior plodder Matt Unertl got a few carries. Why? Because it was hilarious and that's how we roll.

    And we have the band and, unlike some schools (I'm looking at you Michigan) we have a wide variety of signature songs beyond "Jump Around". We've got beer gardens that play only the cheesiest of songs. Yep - you know it's football season when you're packed in with hundreds of your new best friends all singing "YOU LIVE FOR THE FIGHT WHEN THAT'S ALL THAT YOU GOT!!!" at the top of your lungs.

    That's what Wisconsin football is. An early season game in a typical 9-3 season is more fun than your Rose Bowl. Our Rose Bowl is way more fun than your BCS National Championship. And, if we ever won a national title, well, I guess our friends in Minnesota, Iowa and northern Illinois (you know, those border states that aren't in our geographically determined division) would have to hold down the fort for a few days while we all recovered.

    In truth, other than destroying a rivalry with Iowa that's been played 73 out of the last 75 years, the Big Ten divisional alignment doesn't yet kill the spirit of Wisconsin football, it just makes it very clear that the Big Ten doesn't care what Wisconsin is about - to them, we are just another interchangeable team not named The Ohio State University or Michigan.

    Personally, I think Wisconsin football is what's right in college sports and the Big Ten is now just another part of what's wrong.


    Posted by kris at September 6, 2010 09:47 PM

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