Wisconsin football head coach Gary Andersen spent Wednesday in Bristol, Conn., spreading the word about the Badgers across a number of ESPN platforms. Re-live the sights and sounds of Andersen's day at the Worldwide Leader in Sports:
CHICAGO -- When the ACC's coordinator of officials, Doug Rhoads, suggested that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney's resounding hit on Michigan tailback Vincent Smith might have led to Clowney being ejected from the game under the new "targeting'' rules, it sent shockwaves through college football.
Some washed ashore here Wednesday at the Big Ten Media Days.
"I was shocked by that (Rhoads' interpretation),'' said Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland. "If that warrants an ejection maybe they should put flags in the running back's belt and we'll pull them out instead of playing tackle football. That was a perfect tackle.''
Others felt the same way, including Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, who handed the ball to Smith on the play in question. "It was a good football play,'' he said of Clowney's memorable tackle in the Outback Bowl. "I don't think he could have been ejected at all.
"They're trying to make football kind of a soft game if that's the case.''
Offering the running back's perspective, UW senior James White joined the chorus. "I thought it was a clean hit,'' he said. "It looked like a pretty good form tackle to me. But they're trying to look out for player safety. You just hope they're consistent with it.''
That was also Gardner's take on how games might be officiated. "I was watching a roundtable with (South Carolina's) Steve Spurrier,'' he noted. "He was saying it would be hard to implement it if not everyone was calling it the same way. I just hope it's fair.''
The objective is to penalize those players who launch (or leave their feet) to deliver a hit above the shoulders, especially when they use the crown of their helmet to strike an opponent. Purdue defensive tackle Bruce Gaston didn't see Clowney's hit in that light.
"From a defensive point of view, it was a good hit,'' Gaston said. "It was a hard hit, it was a hit that every D-lineman, I can safely say, would love to get. As far as the rules, I can't comment because at the end of the day I don't have anything to do with them.
"I always think there's the need for greater safety. But the sport we play is football. It's a very physical sport and everyone knows that once they put the pads on in the Big Ten.''
Obviously, the intent is to protect defenseless players. Such as Smith? "He's getting the ball so he may be defenseless,'' Gardner said. "But the goal for the defense is to get the ball (Smith fumbled on the play). He (Clowney) did what he had to do to get the football.''
Although ejections would be reviewable by the replay official in the press box, the new guidelines on targeting -- or high hits -- has stirred much discussion and debate, particularly because it's so subjective in nature, maybe too much so.
"It puts a huge amount of pressure on the officials and there's such a very fine line to be drawn,'' said Wisconsin Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez. "I understand the intent of the rule. But, boy, you can't take the aggressiveness out of the game.
"You're trying to eliminate someone going for the head, the kill shots. But an ejection for just a clean hit, a hard hit, I would really question that. You have to send a message some way. I just don't know if this is the right way. But it's sure going to send a strong message.''
Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini, a defensive architect, voiced his concerns Wednesday. "The scary thing for me is the application part of it,'' he said. "I don't think it's an easy thing to call. In my opinion, it's going a little bit overboard right now.
"I understand where it's coming from,'' he continued. "It's about the safety of the players and we're all for that. We just have to make sure that we're not messing with the integrity of the game or the sport and how it's supposed to be played.''
Borland echoed that sentiment. "You can't change the game too much,'' he said. Yet, he recognized the need for change given the severity of the penalty. "Ejection is a strong word. You can't afford that, especially if you're a starter and key player.''
Does a defensive player have to condition himself to tackle differently? "I don't think you can afford to do that,'' Borland said. "A fundamentally sound tackle isn't going to warrant an ejection, so you have to focus on being fundamentally sound.''
Borland is well aware of the increased sensitivity to head injuries, concussions.
"Our athletic training staff does a great job with it,'' he said. "We appreciate them taking care of the players and caring about safety. Obviously it's an issue (nationally) with some of the things that have been going on with former NFL players (i.e. lawsuits).
"That said, it's a risk that you take on when you play football. It's up to you to be responsible if you sustain a concussion to take yourself out of the game or let someone know. The issues arise when guys try to tough it out.
"You can't play around with your brain.''
You can't play tentative or hold back on defense, either. "You've heard all of your life as an athlete, if you're trying not to get hurt, you're likely to get hurt,'' Borland said. "You have to play hard. And if you play sound, you should avoid most injuries.''
Sporting a shiner, the result of a broken nose that he sustained during a 7-0n-7 passing drill Monday night on campus, UW wide receiver Jared Abbrederis pointed out, "You want to make sure you keep the players safe. But it is football and we signed up.''
Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen doesn't want to get anyone hurt nor does he want to "take a game away from a kid if we don't have to.'' He cited the need to educate players on big hit opportunities and called the targeting rules a work in progress.
"It absolutely puts more emphasis on judgment by officials,'' he said. "That's the hard part for me as a coach. Those decisions are going to be made in a bang-bang emotional time. And you just have to hope that they are made right.''
Montee Ball dominated plenty of defenses in his three seasons as a running back for the Wisconsin football team, but his effort in the Badgers' win at Purdue last season has earned special attention.
The career-high 247 yards and three touchdowns Ball racked up against the Boilermakers earned him the "Most Dominating Performance" award as part of the sixth-annual BTN Awards Show on Wednesday.
Ball's 247 yards were a career high on the ground, and his third touchdown of the day marked the 72nd of his career. That made him the Big Ten's all-time leader in TDs, surpassing Badgers great Ron Dayne's career total of 71 scores. According to NCAA statistics (which did not include bowl games until 2002), Ball became just the third player in FBS history to score 70 or more touchdowns in a career.
The individual effort was part of an overall domination by the Badgers' offense, which gained 645 total yards, the second-highest tally in school history.
Ball finished his Badgers career as the NCAA's all-time leader in touchdowns, with 83, and career record-holder for rushing touchdowns, with 77.
Jeff Lewis will be asked to make the transition from the offensive backfield to the defensive backfield when the Badgers convene for fall camp in August.
Gary Andersen played a hunch during his first year as Utah State's head coach, and it paid dividends for the Aggies and Curtis Marsh, a running back that Andersen converted into a cornerback.
Prior to Andersen's arrival, Marsh started three games in each of his first two seasons at Utah State and finished as the team's third leading rusher in 2007 and 2008.
Overall, Marsh had 124 carries for 487 yards. He also had 28 catches. Upon taking over the program, Andersen was looking to plug some holes and shifted Marsh to the secondary in 2009.
"It was maybe my idea,'' Andersen said, "but it was his athleticism and his God-given ability and his want-to that made him able to turn himself into a very good corner in two short years.''
Marsh was a quick study. As a senior, he was Utah State's sixth-leading tackler and earned second-team All-WAC recognition. In the 2011 draft, he was taken in the third round by Philadelphia.
During his first two seasons in the National Football League, the 6-foot-1, 197-pound Marsh has appeared in 22 games, mostly on special teams for the Eagles. He owes it all to a position change.
During a Wednesday radio interview, Andersen said, "It has worked for me in the past -- very well sometimes and sometimes it doesn't work so well moving a running back over there (defense).''
In 2007, Andersen was the defensive coordinator at Utah and got considerable mileage out of cornerback Sean Smith, a converted wide receiver. He was Miami's second-round pick in the 2009 draft.
Citing such personnel moves in general, Andersen said, "You have to be creative sometimes. Every team in the country has holes, they have issues, they have scenarios they go through.''
The Badgers, for example, are seeking to replace three starting defensive backs: Marcus Cromartie, Devin Smith and Shelton Johnson. Safety Dez Southward is the lone returning starter.
During spring practice, Reggie Mitchell, a converted cornerback, got most of the reps opposite Southward. But Mitchell, a redshirt freshman from Pittsburgh, Pa., has since opted to transfer.
Additionally, a potential safety candidate, junior college transfer Donnell Vercher (Fresno City College), will not be attending Wisconsin, prompting Andresen to get "creative'' with his depth chart.
"I have great respect for Reggie and I have great respect for Donnell,'' Andersen said. "We'll move on, we'll still turn on the lights and we'll still jump out there the first day of fall camp. There are a couple of pieces to the puzzle. Dez is the foundation of that safety group and he will continue to be and we will continue to build some young men there (around Southward).''
The first order of business was moving tailback Jeff Lewis to safety. Lewis is a 6-2, 212-pound redshirt junior from Brookfield Central. Last season, he had four rushes for 13 yards while serving as an understudy to Montee Ball and James White. In 2011, he had 33 carries for 187 yards and one score.
"We're going to experiment with that (move) and see how that goes through the summer for him (Lewis) as he prepares himself to play some safety,'' said Andersen, who obviously won't be able to fully evaluate the switch until fall camp. "He's excited and we'll just see how it goes.
"It doesn't always work,'' he reiterated, "but Jeff was unbelievably receptive. He's a tough young man. I don't know how many times he got tackled in the spring. But it was a lot. He played the last practice with a broken thumb and he just kept on banging because he knew the team needed him.''
Andersen also feels comfortable with some of his other options.
"We'll be OK, we'll be just fine at that spot,'' he said. "We didn't really have a starter at the safety position (opposite Southward). As we went through (spring), Reggie did some good things; some other kids did some good things. Trotter and the gang will handle it well and we'll play well back there.''
Michael Trotter, a redshirt junior from Racine, Wis., started three games at safety last season after Shelton Johnson was injured at Oregon State. Michael Caputo, a redshirt sophomore from Imperial, Pa., also received some playing time. Andersen expects other candidates to emerge at safety and corner.
One could be freshman Keelon Brookins, a mid-term high school graduate. Brookins didn't get on the field during the spring because he was rehabbing from a knee injury. The 5-11, 201-pound Brookins, who's from St. Paul, Minn., blew out his ACL during his senior year at Tartan High School.
Cornerback Sojourn Shelton, who's from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and came early in with Brookins, had a solid spring game. "I expect Sojourn to compete and be on the field in the fall in some areas,'' Andersen said. "As far as how much he's involved in special teams and the defense, time will tell.''
Andersen stressed that Shelton needs "to take a step forward in the summer'' phase of training or what Andersen likes to refer as the Third Quarter. On his calendar, the First Quarter is winter conditioning, the Second Quarter is spring ball and the Fourth Quarter is the season.
"I really believe that you win games in the third quarter -- it's the time that team comes together,'' said Andersen, noting the importance of developing leaders from "being together in those situations when the coaches aren't around and they have to coach each other for running practices.''
The Badgers are in the midst of their summer camp season. On Saturday, they will play host to their youth camp-- kindergarten through eighth grade -- at Camp Randall Stadium. The one-day only session will run from 10:30 a.m. through 4 p.m. Parents are welcome to attend.
If you're asking if Vince Lombardi could still be successful in today's NFL, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez is answering, "Absolutely, no question. Good coaches are flexible. They adjust.''
Vincent Thomas Lombardi was born on June 11, 1913 in Brooklyn, N.Y.
In honor of what would have been Lombardi's 100th birthday on Tuesday -- he passed away in 1970 -- many have reflected on his Hall of Fame coaching career with the Green Bay Packers.
Celebrating his legacy, ESPN named Lombardi as the Greatest Coach in NFL History as part of its series on the top 20 coaches of all-time. TV analysts and sportswriters made up the selection panel.
"When I think of Lombardi, I think of discipline,'' said Alvarez, 66, the former UW head coach, who's a member of multiple halls of fame, including the Rose Bowl and College Football. "I also think of someone who had a great understanding of the game.
"Lombardi was meticulous like Woody Hayes (the former Ohio State coach). The way Lombardi coached football was not real fancy, but it was done right. It was about fundamentals -- that was driven into you -- and you were going to do the same things over and over until you perfected them.
"When I was in high school and college (in the '60s), Green Bay had made the turn and had become the best team in football. Everybody thought of Lombardi the same way; the same way you think of him today. Greatest of all-time? You can't argue against Lombardi.''
But could he survive in today's game?
"I think so because he would have had control of the franchise,'' Alvarez said. "He would have run the team and he would have been as strong as any player on that team. It would be unlike a lot of pro teams where a coach comes in and it's a temporary stop.
"If you don't get along with the $20 million-dollar-a season guy, it's short-lived. If you don't get along with the owner, it's short-lived. That would not have happened to Lombardi. The way Green Bay was structured, and considering how powerful he was, it reminds me of Bill Belichick in New England.''
As far as Lombardi dealing with today's easily-distracted athletes, Alvarez said, "All we ever hear about is how tough he was, but let's not forget about some of the players that he had -- like Paul Hornung and Max McGee. Those guys raised as much hell as anybody.''
One of the time-honored stories in the NFL was McGee breaking curfew and partying into the early morning hours before the first Super Bowl thinking that he wouldn't have to play against the Kansas City Chiefs. But after Boyd Dowler was injured, a hung-over McGee was forced into action.
McGee caught the first touchdown pass and finished with seven catches for 138 yards.
"All of the players respected Lombardi, but they still got away with a little bit, too,'' said Alvarez, chuckling. "Can you imagine today with all the social media coverage if someone went out until the wee hours of the morning before a Super Bowl? But Lombardi could adapt to that stuff.''
Rounding out the top five behind Lombardi on ESPN's list of greatest NFL coaches was Bill Walsh, Don Shula, George Halas and Chuck Noll. Growing up in Burgettstown, Pa., some 25 miles outside of Pittsburgh, Alvarez was well aware of Noll's success in resurrecting the Steelers.
"I looked up to and respected a lot of NFL coaches, but I really liked Noll because that was a bad outfit that he turned into a great outfit,'' Alvarez said. "I liked coaches who did it the right way with fundamentals, toughness, good defense and hard-nosed football. I loved guys who coached that way.''
Nobody should be surprised, since it was also the Alvarez way of coaching.
Wisconsin has the fourth-best game day atmosphere behind Alabama, Notre Dame and Florida. Lindy's Sports College Football Preview says so.
Gary Andersen was the third-best coaching hire this past off-season, behind Western Kentucky's Bobby Petrino and South Florida's Willie Taggart. Athlon Sports Big Ten Preview says so.
Andersen was also the new hire that inspired the third-most confidence behind Oregon's Mark Helfrich and the aforementioned Taggart. The Sporting News' College Football Preview says so.
Wisconsin's Jacob Pedersen is the second-best tight end in the country. Lindy's says so.
Wisconsin's Dave Aranda is one of the top new coordinators. Athlon says so.
Wisconsin-Ohio State is one of the Games of the Week, if not the Year. TSN says so.
You get the idea. Everybody has a say in the 2013 preseason college football magazines.
But the beat writers who cover the teams and players have less of a say than you think.
Jeff Potrykus and Tom Mulhern cover the Badgers for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Wisconsin State Journal, respectively. Both are respected, experienced reporters; among the best.
Potrykus wrote the Wisconsin preview and an accompanying feature on Andersen for Athlon Sports. Mulhern wrote the UW preview for Lindy's. Last year, he also filed a Montee Ball feature.
But neither has any input on the preseason Top 25, All-America and all-conference teams, player ratings, position rankings and league predictions that appear in each of these magazines.
It's standard operating procedure. As a whole, the contributing writers, like Potrykus and Mulhern, don't have a voice beyond their team preview and any sidebar or feature.
Among other things, they are responsible for a team's depth chart, which can be problematic because of deadlines. Potrykus had an April 1 deadline. The UW had only six spring practices by then.
"I joked about this with Mulhern,'' said Potrykus, who has been covering the Badgers since the mid-'90s for the Journal Sentinel. "The worst part was the depth chart they wanted, especially with a new staff at Wisconsin. I might as well have pulled names out of a hat. I'm not joking.
"All kidding aside, that's literally how difficult it was to try and put together a depth chart. It's mostly guesswork, which is frustrating because you can't give their readers -- who buy that publication -- nearly as accurate of a picture as you would like.''
Mulhern had a little more flexibility with his late April deadline.
"I was helped by the fact that I could wait until the end of spring practice,'' said Mulhern, who has covered UW football since the late '90s for the State Journal. "But even with that, they had no official depth chart put out by Wisconsin. This year it made it more difficult with the coaching change and a little more stuff up in the air.
"It really is guesswork. You're trying to project things -- four or five months down the road -- and there are really not a lot of concrete answers that time of the year (March-April). I appreciated having the entire spring, but it didn't make it that much easier.''
All of the preseason magazines have regional covers. Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis are on the cover of the Athlon Sports Big Ten Preview.
Borland shares The Sporting News cover with Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez. UW tailback James White and Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner are on the Lindy's cover.
In Lindy's player ratings, Gardner is listed as the No. 17 quarterback. Ohio State's Braxton Miller is No. 2 -- behind Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel -- while Martinez is No. 13. No other Big Ten QB is rated.
White was curiously not rated among Lindy's top 25 running backs. Melvin Gordon is No. 20 and comes with this disclaimer, "Gordon or tag-teamer James White? Gordon will be the breakout star.''
Ohio State's Carlos Hyde (No. 7), Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah (No. 10) and Northwestern's Venric Mark (No. 11) were all rated above Gordon. But what about White's omission?
"Just based on returning numbers (2,571 career rushing yards), he's got to be in the Top 25,'' Potrykus said. "I honestly think he's going to have his best year because I think they're going to throw to him whether he's lining up as a receiver or coming out of the backfield.''
On the Top 25 snub, Mulhern cited how White has often languished in the shadows of others and noted, "That kind of plays into the way his career has gone, going back to high school when he was kind of the overlooked guy with Giovani Bernard (at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)."
Bernard was the 2012 ACC Offensive Player of the Year at North Carolina and a second-round draft choice of the Cincinnati Bengals. Mulhern suggested that White has thrived when he has not been viewed as the quote-unquote featured back. "I think he kind of likes that role,'' he added.
Lindy's has Pedersen listed as a second-team All-American behind Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Athlon and TSN have Borland tabbed as a third-team All-American.
Wisconsin is No. 19 in Athlon's preseason Top 25; No. 24 in TSN; and No. 26 in Lindy's. Potrykus and Mulhern have Ohio State atop the Big Ten overall, followed by Michigan and the Badgers.
The Sept. 28 Leaders Division showdown between the Badgers and the Buckeyes in Columbus in prime time should be special, but it will share the day with LSU at Georgia.
Which is fitting since Wisconsin and LSU may be sharing the field in the near future.
As a Badger, he was 34 -- No. 34 -- an All-American fullback on the legendary 1942 team.
Harder, a Milwaukee native, was a fan favorite at Camp Randall Stadium.
"Hit'em again, Harder, Harder.''
Who knew such a simple cheer would have so much staying power?
In the 1944 National Football League draft, the Boston Yanks -- consider what an oxymoron that combination is today -- selected Notre Dame quarterback Angelo Bertelli with the No. 1 pick overall.
The 5-foot-11, 203-pound Harder -- who answered to the nickname "The Mule'' -- was taken second by the Chicago Cardinals. No UW player has ever been drafted higher.
After World War II, Harder played eight seasons with the Cardinals and Detroit Lions. Upon his retirement as a player, Harder went on to officiate 17 seasons in the NFL.
Less than a year after his death in 1992, Harder was posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Alan Ameche is the only other UW running back to be so honored by the HOF.
On Tuesday, the National Football Foundation will announce its 2013 College Football Hall of Fame class, which will consist of 12 players and two coaches.
Wisconsin tailback Ron Dayne is on the ballot for the first time and it would be surprising -- maybe even shocking -- if Dayne, the NCAA's all-time leading rusher, is not a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Dayne is not the only HOF candidate who falls into this year's "no-brainer'' category.
Any short list should include Nebraska's Tommie Frazier, TCU's LaDainian Tomlinson, Oklahoma's Brian Bosworth, Notre Dame's Rocket Ismail, Ohio State's Orlando Pace, Indiana's Antwaan Randle El, Alabama's Derrick Thomas, Miami's Vinny Testaverde and Iowa's Andre Tippett.
By the way, Bernie Wyatt, a former Hayden Fry assistant, was not only instrumental in recruiting Tippett to Iowa, but also Dayne to Wisconsin when he was on Barry Alvarez's coaching staff.
On his 1995 campus visit, Dayne saw the Badgers attempt 51 passes and only 20 runs in a 33-20 loss to the Hawkeyes at Camp Randall. They were outrushed by 312 yards.
Sedrick Shaw led Iowa with 41 carries and 214 yards. Aaron Stecker led Wisconsin with 13 carries and 25 yards. After the game, UW assistant Brian White threw his arm around Dayne.
"See why we need you?'' White said with a sigh.
Dayne nodded and replied softly, "Yeah, I do.''
Seven thousand and one hundred and twenty-five rushing yards later ...
Dayne left Wisconsin with the 1999 Heisman Trophy.
In 2011, he was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.
When he got the news, Dayne responded, "Are you serious? Aren't I too young to be going into a Hall of Fame?'' He was then 33. Later, he admitted, "I was surprised. I really didn't believe it.''
Dayne was a two-time Rose Bowl MVP, one of only four in history joining Texas' Vince Young, USC's Charles White and Washington's Bob Schloredt.
Alvarez, UW's director of athletics, was Dayne's presenter at the Rose Bowl induction ceremony. To say the least, he knows his way around such HOF functions as a previous inductee.
"You liked your odds,'' Alvarez has always said, "going into any game with Ron Dayne.''
You also have to like the odds of Dayne going into the College Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday.
You didn't have to be drinking Kool-Aid from the Little Brown Jug to realize that geographical realignment was a most reasonable option for the Big Ten. And this was not about passing the Illibuck on competitive balance, even if a couple of trophy games will be taking a hit.
Competitive balance can be so fleeting.
Five short years ago, Michigan's storied football program was cycling south of the southern-most campus in the conference -- making for no stranger bedfellows than the Wolverines and Indiana Hoosiers -- while Iowa was cycling in the opposite direction.
New Big Ten Divisional Alignment
Indiana Maryland Michigan Michigan State Ohio State Penn State Rutgers
In 2008, Michigan finished with a 3-9 overall record, matching Indiana at the bottom of the Big Ten. At 2-6, the Wolverines were one game better than the Hoosiers in league games. In 2009, they both won just once in the conference with Michigan going 5-7 in all games. Indiana was 4-8.
Contrast and compare ...
In 2008, Iowa was one of three schools that won nine of 13 games, joining Michigan State and Northwestern. The Hawkeyes were 5-3 in the Big Ten; a springboard for 2009 when the Hawks ended up with 11 wins (as many overall as both Ohio State and Penn State) and played in the Orange Bowl.
Iowa was the seventh-best team in college football.
Michigan was the 10th-best team in the Big Ten.
That was four short years ago.
Granted, there has been a noteworthy reawakening in Ann Arbor under Ohio-bred (Dayton) head coach Brady Hoke, who has erased the taste of Rich Rodriguez's tenure and made the Wolverines dangerous again with back-to-back records of 11-2 and 8-5 (6-2 each year in the Big Ten).
By contrast, the Hawkeyes have been in need of realignment -- front wheel -- after running over potholes the last three seasons (19-19 overall). In 2012, Iowa may have bottomed out at 4-8 and 2-6 in the Big Ten; at least a beleaguered Kirk Ferentz is hoping that he has seen the worst.
Based on his track record, there's every reason to believe that Ferentz will get the Hawks back on track sooner than later -- assuming, of course, that the can keep a few running backs healthy during the grind of a long Big Ten season, which will get longer in 2016 with nine league games.
Over the last five seasons, Iowa is 39-25 (21-19) and Michigan is 34-29 (18-22).
During that same span, Northwestern is 40-25 (21-19) and Michigan State is 44-22 (27-13).
In Jim Delany's New World Order, the Hawkeyes and the Wildcats are in the Big Ten West and the Wolverines and the Spartans are in the Big Ten East. So maybe Iowa doesn't look like Michigan right now anymore than Northwestern looks like Michigan State, right? It's not as one-sided as you think.
The 'Cats are coming off a 10-3 season (and returning most of their best players) whereas Sparty is trying to bounce back from a 7-6 season (after winning 32 games over the previous three years). At the moment, there is not a significant competitive gap between these two programs.
Now consider the sum of the moving parts: Why can't the "Big 4'' in the West (Wisconsin, Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa) compete against the "Big 4'' in the East (Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State), particularly with the uncertainty of the Nittany Lions' scholarship reductions?
Obviously, it's not a wash today unless you're talking about the current wild cards in the West (Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois) versus those in the East (Indiana, Maryland, Rutgers). Still, everything is subject to change on a year-to-year basis, including competitive balance in 2014.
So with the exception of a couple of trophy games that will no longer be staged annually -- the Little Brown Jug between Michigan and Minnesota and the Illibuck rivalry between Illinois and Ohio State (Rivalry? Who knew?) -- the Big Ten's geographical realignment can stand on its own merit.
As sports fans, it is only natural to view a favorite team or a favorite player simply by performance in the athletic arena. Did it win or lose? How many points did so-and-so score? How many goals? How fast did he or she run?
Badger fans have enjoyed the opportunity to view a number of memorable performances in a variety of sports. On a yearly basis, UW teams have given fans ample reason to cheer.
For the last five years, the University of Wisconsin has had an event that celebrates the student-athletes' successes beyond the playing field. It is called The Buckinghams, and it is quite a show. The purpose is to recognize those who have excelled in the classroom and in the community. The program also gives several student-athletes the opportunity to display their unique talents, which this year ranged from tap dancing to performing an opera piece.
It truly is a showcase of excellence
The organizers, with special mention to Director of Student-Athlete Development Bridget Woodruff, somehow manage to gather student-athletes from every sport in the same room for a well-planned, entertaining evening.
In addition to the official award winners, an unofficial trophy for toughness should go to women's hockey player Katy Josephs. In addition to her gifts as a forward for Mark Johnson's hockey team, Josephs also possesses a beautiful signing voice. However, earlier in the day during rehearsal, she was feeling lousy -- as evidenced by her constant coughing.
As someone who speaks for a living, having a cold or the flu can be a nightmare. I figured she would be listed as doubtful for the event. I was wrong. The show must go on, right? So Katy sang, and she was outstanding in her rendition of "Try" by P!nk.
Never doubt the focus of a determined Badger.
* * * *
Also, never doubt the loyalty of a Badger. Last Friday night, 175 former UW football players were in town to take a look at the new locker room and players' lounge, as well as the new varsity sports and football weight rooms. The word "impressive" hardly does justice to the finished product. Those who attended probably understand more than most the importance of the project. I also should add this group came away very impressed and excited about coach Gary Andersen.
During the reunion weekend, some 500 former players and their families were in attendance for Saturday's spring game. It was a treat to see players from several eras. On a personal note, I really enjoyed seeing some of the guys from my first years here in the late 1980s. Those seasons might have been difficult, but there were some very good players on those teams, and many of them were on campus last week. It was fun catching up with them.
That connection is important. Hopefully every athlete who has gone through this university understands that he or she is part of a special group. Think of the number of young boys and girls who dream of being a Badger. Yet in the grand scheme of things, only a select few get that opportunity. You might be an ex-player, but you are never an ex-Badger. I spoke to those who have not been around very much in recent years. My message is simple -- don't be a stranger.
In the last week, I have visited with a number of current athletes as well as those of yesteryear. Watching them perform, or listening to some old stories simply reminds me that I am very lucky to be associated with this institution.
As the spring sports season continues, I wish all the best for a strong finish.
Thank you for checking out my blog this season. Have a great spring and summer!