As many of you have undoubtedly heard, the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference have handed down their punishments to Penn State for the Sandusky Scandal that has dominated news narratives of collegiate athletics and the nation at large for the better part of a year. What happened was a tragedy. A horrific and chilling example of what can happen when serious crimes are not taken seriously and reputation is put before what is right. It is also an example of what can happen when athletics have too much power in academic institutions.
While many around the country talk about what these rulings mean for Penn State, I’m writing about what this means for Wisconsin, and not just on the gridiron. As a rising national power in football and perennials powers in basketball, and hockey, Wisconsin sports have taken a prominent position both locally and nationally. With that, there is the natural, and justified, concern that athletics is taking too prominent a position in college sports; that the term student-athlete is less about the student, and more about the athlete.
Wisconsin faced a similar situation as Penn State did with the publication of UW Athletics official John Chadima’s inappropriate conduct with student employees. While obviously very different than the Jerry Sandusky incidents, Chadima’s case was a chilling affirmation that the UW does not have a spotless and sterling record. However, the UW did not try to cover up the incident. Chadima was immediately placed on leave (which he then resigned from), and an independent investigation was called for by the school. Kudos to the UW for that.
Wisconsin needs to be in front of this, and lead the way in changing the “football first” culture. Overall, I think the UW is on the “safe” side of the “football culture” battle. We are not like SEC schools where winning a National Title is more important than literally anything else. But we’re flirting with the line. Beloved Athletic Director Barry Alvarez frequently parks very near to a statue of himself (like Joe Paterno did) and head football coach Bret Bielema is not an overly large member of the campus community like fellow coach Bo Ryan is.
Additionally, the next Chancellor needs the fortitude and inner strength to take on a wildly popular athletic director and a rising football program. We need a Chancellor unafraid to take the right steps, even if they may be detrimental to athletic success. Preferably, we would like a Chancellor with previous experience leading or managing major Division 1 institutions.
But what does this mean for football?
Clearly, such a monumental decision will have a tremendous impact on Badger football and while the lessons the UW can learn from this case are important, many of our students and fans are eager to discuss how this will impact the most visible part of the NCAA sanctions: the football program.
Good news abounds for Bucky and friends. We all might as well book hotel rooms in Indy right now because the Badgers seem like the clear (only?) team to win the Leaders division. Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible and so our only challengers are Purdue, Illinois, and Indiana. Yep, seems like a solid bet.
However, it is important that the Badgers remain focused. Sloppy play encouraged by complacancy could take Bucky out of the national title hunt, and we do not want to be “Asterik Champions” who lose to both Ohio State and Penn State before getting into the championship by default. Let’s go out and rock their socks like it still was relevant.
Additionally, the Badgers may scoop up some major talent from Penn State. One of the conditions of the sanctions was that all players may immediately transfer to other major schools without sitting out 1 year as is usually the case. While possible, it seems like that many current players will remain with the team, but the best value could lie in this year’s incoming freshman class with several VERY highly recruited players now tempted away from a team that they could never advance into the postseason.
You have to wonder how many phone calls Beilema and his staff have already made…