UW to play WIAC exhibition throughout Ryan tenure

Badger coach announces "lifetime" commitment to UW system Division III programs; Wisconsin women's team will likely have WIAC agreement beginning in 2005

MADISON, Wis.—At a press conference at the Kohl Center Tuesday, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference commissioner Gary Karner and the head coaches at UW-Platteville and UW-Parkside confirmed what multiple newspapers reported last week: the Badgers will host the two smaller in-state schools in exhibition competition in November.

The UW-Platteville game, scheduled for Nov. 16, is part of a contract that locks Wisconsin into facing one WIAC team each year for as long as Bo Ryan is the Badgers' head coach. Ryan stated that he wanted the agreement tied to his coaching tenure, however long that may be, so that the next Wisconsin coach would not be forced to honor it.

The arrangement is the culmination of years of thought and work on the part of Ryan and others, which came to a heed during the most recent college basketball season.

"Why not throw a little sunshine on probably the best conference in the country on the non-scholarship level," Ryan said. "This is a great opportunity for people, especially in the state, to see what these schools are doing."

"I'm just thankful for the opportunity Coach Ryan has given our program and our community," Platteville coach Paul Combs said. "He knows a lot better than probably most of us in this room how important this is to those Pioneer fanatics back in Platteville and how big this game will be to them.

According to Karner, Ryan initially contacted him about setting up exhibitions between Division I and Division III programs about 18 months ago. The idea, which Ryan had considered since his tenure at UW-Platteville, began to become reality in January when Division III programs agreed to a rule change, initially proposed by the WIAC the previous summer, that allowed member institutions to play one exhibition as early as Nov. 1.

Three months later the NCAA banned Division I programs from playing exhibitions against non-collegiate opponents such as AAU teams, foreign national teams or professional barnstorming teams.

Still, the contract between Wisconsin and the WIAC is unique.

"I can say that having just met with the Division III commissioners in Indianapolis about two weeks ago," Karner said, "there is a lot of interest and a lot of people watching what we are doing here in Wisconsin right now. Now, does anybody else have anything like this on the drawing board? Not that I'm aware of. At least not to the level of commitment that Bo is making."

The WIAC was hoping to set up a similar arrangement with the Badger women's team this fall, but according to Karner, Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone, "had some contractual obligations to take care of this fall. … We just finally decided a couple weeks ago to delay it for a year and hopefully implement it for the following year."

"I can guarantee you that the other Division III commissioners in the country are very interested in, and, as a matter of fact, quite frankly they're amazed at what we're doing here and I don't want to say envious, but that is maybe a good adjective to put on it because of the relationship that we have with Bo and that down the road we are also going to have with Lisa," Karner said.

The other Division I programs in Wisconsin—Marquette, UW-Milwaukee and UW-Green Bay—have not yet contacted Karner about any other possible exhibitions, and he said he was not aware whether they had contacted any of WIAC programs individually.

Wisconsin's agreement with the WIAC naturally begins with Platteville, where Ryan coached from 1984 to 1999, winning 314 games and four national championships. The way the rest of the rotation will work out, though, remains to be seen. WIAC schools will have the option of joining the year-to-year rotation and Karner referred questions about the remaining schools' relative interest levels to those respective coaches.

Karner also said that each school that participates in the rotation will receive an equal share of the revenue from the game each year. In addition, the participating team in a given season will have its expenses covered by the WIAC.

Ryan said the Badgers chose to leave their second exhibition flexible, partly because the NCAA could change its mind down the road and allow schools to once again schedule games with the traditional barnstorming opponents.

This year, the flex exhibition went to UW-Parkside, the state's only Division II school, which will visit the Kohl Center Nov. 10.

"This is a great opportunity for people around Madison and particularly north of Madison to get a look at the type of program we are trying to put together in Kenosha," said Parkside coach Luke Reigel, who was a player and an assistant coach under Ryan at Platteville.

"Coach Ryan's the guy that got me started in college basketball so it will be a little added special bonus for me there," he said.

In the future, Ryan said the Badgers could use the open slot to play one of the state's private Division III institutions, which compete in the Midwest Conference.

Ryan prefers the opportunity to play against college teams that have a set style and know how to play with one another.

"As far as the past, I'm not going to say this team was good, this team wasn't necessarily," Ryan said. "But there were experiences where you say, ‘that's just a glorified pick-up team that your playing.' Is that what we wanted?"

Another impetus for the change was financial.

"We're sitting there at Platteville, would love to play Minnesota or Wisconsin, and I think get more interest out of it," Ryan said of scheduling exhibitions as the Pioneers head coach. "And those dollars were leaving Platteville, or UW-M, or Wisconsin, to go to some other place. There was just something about that that didn't make sense to me. And that's why all this kind of snowballed."

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