Badger Nation's View from the Box

Instead of the regular season being over like it originally was supposed to be, the Badgers finish off the non-conference season against I-AA Cal Poly, a team the Badgers traded Virginia Tech for. Was the move smart for the Badgers to trade a BCS power school for a FCB team? Surprisingly so.

MADISON – The firestorm created on the Badger Nation message boards was unparalleled. When it was announced that the Badgers had pulled out of their Virginia Tech, a high-powered ACC school that was fresh off a Coastal Division championship, for Cal Poly, fans were, needless to say, unhappy with the decision.

The uproar was for various reasons. One because the Hokies, arguably, represented the best non-conference home opponent to come to Madison since No.13 Colorado played the Badgers on September 2, 1995. Some would say you have to go all the way back to No.3 Miami (Fla.) in 1989 to find a team with that rich of history to play at the Camp.

Two, Bielema decided to pull out of the series and delay it until further notice because after the Fresno State road trip, the Badgers would play Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa in four-straight conference weeks, something no other Big Ten teams had done. Because of that, Bielema felt that a bye would have been more beneficial to his team.

Three, fans have been clamoring the UW coaches since the early 1990s to improve its non-conference schedule, which would in turn improve its ranking and allow donors to see a elite product, seeing as they are already paying an arm and a leg anyway for a non-conference schedule that has gotten progressively weaker and tougher to schedule.

Lastly, instead of a warm, sunny September afternoon, the Badger season-ticket holders would be forced to sit out on a late November Saturday for a non-conference tilt. For the record, September 20 (the original scheduled date against Virginia Tech) was 70 degrees and sunny. Saturday is expected to be partly cloudy with the mercury dropping into the mid 30s.

It would have been a great matchup between two programs that have been among the national's elite since 1993. Since that season, the Hokies have a record of a 149-49 record, UW is 135-61-2 (Tech is 48-15 and UW 46-16 in the last four seasons); Tech has been to 15 bowl games, UW to 13 (both are eligible again this season) and Tech has six top-10 finishes in the Top 25 poll while UW has four.

Instead, the Badgers get Cal Poly, causing fans more anger that they are paying to watch an I-AA school at the end of November.

Fans are still angry and frustrated over the situation with the game (which can be shown why the Athletic Department is doing everything they can to get rid of the excess tickets before Saturday), with the team and its 6-5 record and with Bielema for pulling the plug on this series.

If you subside your anger for a minute and take a hard look at the situation two months later, you realize that Bielema made the right move.

For starters, if Wisconsin didn't have a bye week before Michigan, the Badgers would have looked like a glorified JV team against the Hokies. Wisconsin was laced with injuries from having both of its tight ends banged up (Travis Beckum and Garrett Graham), dings with their running backs, Jonathan Casillas still working his way back with a knee brace, clubs on the hands of Jason Chapman and Jae McFadden and countless other injuries that needed a week of rest and rehab.

Without question, Wisconsin would be missing a good majority of starters when the Badgers trotted out their B-squad.

Secondly, Wisconsin got blacklisted by schools Central Florida and San Diego State, both of whom pulled out of its contracts (Central Florida next season, SDSU in 2010 and 2012) for the simple reason that they didn't want to play Wisconsin. With the Athletic Department mandating the Badgers have seven home games a season, UW was left to scramble for next season, especially with UW expected to play two non-conference road games at Northern Illinois and Hawaii.

So instead of announcing the schedule before the season as originally expected, UW was forced to mix, switch and reconfigure its schedule, which forced UW to move its game at Hawaii back a week (no longer the same week as the men's basketball trip to Hawaii) and schedule another I-AA school in Wofford in September, the fourth-straight season the Badgers will play a school from the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision).

Is that really such a terrible thing? Schools from that division are assumed to play at a lesser level than the BCS big boys, but let's ponder two points.

1) The price for non-conference games has skyrocketed over the past several years. In a study by the Des Moines Register, in 2008 alone, Ohio State paid $2,150,000 for its non-conference games and Michigan paid $1,775,000 (third and fifth in the nation, respectively). The Badgers ranked third in the conference, dishing out $1,625,000, including a $500,000 to Cal Poly.

2) Appalachian State 34, No.5 Michigan 32

Since UW mandates three non-conference home games in order to help pay the bills, the Badgers have been forced to find top competition but still maintain a suitable price, as a home-and-home series every year against a top BCS school isn't super beneficial to the pocket book.

"To get three non-conference games at home, you aren't going to be able to meet scheduling demands," Bielema said early this year. "People will come here as long as we go there. You just can't keep doing that."

So whether you like it or not, this was the best possible situation for Wisconsin. The Badgers still get a solid opponent in 8-1 Cal Poly, save a little money in their pocket book and have a chance to get a seventh win, something UW probably wouldn't have gotten against Virginia Tech in September.

So if the Badgers walk off the field victorious on Saturday, you can thank Bielema and the administration for saving you some money and seeing an entertaining football game … that is if you aren't frozen by the second half.


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