Are you Ready for Some "Football"?

September 6, 2011 | Blog

If there’s one thing Wisconsin seems to agree on, it’s the Badgers. Even if you never attended or even cared to attend UW-Madison, you’re most likely a fan. Why? Honestly, I won’t pretend to know–college football’s never been my thing. But I do think it’s cool that people throughout the state seem to feel they have a little bit of Madison they’re connected to. Football– Bucky– makes that happen. As my late colleague and friend Doug Toma wrote in Football U, “football humanizes seemingly impersonal large universities for external audiences.”

But a few recent incidents regarding UW football seem to have affected UW Madison’s activities and image in ways that deserve some scrutiny.

First, last Thursday afternoon (on the eve of the first day of classes), Madison faculty and staff were urged to abandon their offices early and clear out of campus so that the crowds could take over for the season opener against UNLV. Many campus administrative offices shut down at 1 pm. People who paid sizable fees for annual parking (e.g. $1000 per year) were told they needed to leave so their spots could be sold to others for the night. Basically, we threw all real business (class prep?) aside for a beer and circus show. For more, check out this spot-on post over at Sifting and Winnowing.

The message was clear: Football comes first. Get out of the way.

Second, 6 weeks after her much-discussed departure from campus, we’ve come to learn that Biddy Martin has left some goodbye presents. One is the apparent revelation that she unilaterally decided that UW-Madison would vote against AAU membership for Nebraska. Reports the Lincoln newspaper: “After endorsing the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s entrance into the Big Ten Conference — in part because of its academic strength — leaders at the universities of Wisconsin and Michigan apparently helped oust UNL from an elite academic group.”

UW Madison is famous for its shared governance of all issues, big and small. According to actions and rhetoric around campus (including last Thursday’s events) football is a BIG darn deal. So why does it seem that Biddy went it alone on making such an important decision?

Honestly, I don’t know. But I’d really like to hear some campus discussion of it. I’m concerned that it serves to perpetuate our elitist image, an appearance Biddy did much to reinforce. Football may have been yet another tool in her arsenal of weapons intended to barricade Madison from the public–using it in this way manages to undo its powerful ability to bring Madison to the people. I’m especially concerned that efforts by journalists to understand what’s happened here have been rebuffed– the Journal Star says that its open records requests were declined by UW. And most of all, I hope that those of us who benefit from shared governance act now to find out why we–the faculty, staff, and students–were bypassed on this one. Who knew what, and when? This institution isn’t supposed to act on issues that seemingly matter most of all … like FOOTBALL… without us.


  1. Reply

    Crafty Penguin

    September 6, 2011

    That is darn shady. Everything having to do with the ouster of Nebraska from the AAU by UW and UMich is a scandal. Especially when one sees the following:

    A message Martin released July 1, the day Nebraska officially joined the Big Ten, congratulated UNL. : "Welcome to the Big Ten," she wrote. "Go Big Red -- both of us!"

    How disingenuous. I also take issue with the fact that Martin claims it would be "disingenuous" to claim academics bore little weight in the decision to vote Nebraska into the Big Ten. That's poppycock. We all know The Big Ten stands for far more than competitive athletics; but rather Big Ten stands for a high and rigorous academic tradition and standard. Big Ten institutions are in many ways the public (minus Northwestern, granted,) land grant answer to the Ivy League. It is little wonder that institutions such as UW, UIUC, Penn State, and UMich are consistently regarded at "public ivies"- and also happen to be members of the Big Ten. Let us recall, Penn State was not always a Big Ten school, but was rather invited to join in 1990.

    It would seem that the ousting of Nebraska by the AAU was motivated by some who sought to reinforce their own institution's bon fides as elite institutions. That Wisconsin and Michigan would feel the need to circle their wagons to protect or otherwise manage their positions as top universities, against what could only be described as an imagined threat by Nebraska is simply dumbfounding. I think you're right on, imagining those votes to be moves toward further cementing certain institution's positions among the elite. But one has to wonder, if we're really that elite, do we need to protect it in such a way? And do we need to keep proclaiming it from the rooftops?

  2. Reply


    September 7, 2011

    The AAU vote had to be 2/3 to kick Nebraska out, and was the final result of a process that took years. It can hardly be blamed on Wisconsin and Michigan alone. It is interesting that all of the AAU schools that Nebraska left in the imploding Big 12 voted to keep it. Apparently they understand, in a way that Wisconsin and Michigan don't, that all Midwestern land grant institutions are viewed with the same disdain on the coasts.

    OTOH, I agree with Biddy that the Big 10 Nebraska invite was motivated primarily by athletic considerations. If the Big 10 wanted the academic cream of the Big 12, they would have taken Texas, Missouri, Colorado, Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma, and Baylor before Nebraska.

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