Alvarez, UW coaches mingle with fans at Janesville event
JANESVILLE Barry Alvarez, the University of Wisconsin’s director of athletics, summed up Thursday’s Badger Day event in short and accurate fashion.
“This isn’t a fund-raising event,” he said “This is a friendship-raising event.”
More than 400 red-clad fans invaded Janesville’s Rotary Gardens on a glorious spring afternoon to meet and greet virtually every UW varsity coach and enjoy a traditional picnic featuring—wait for it—brats (what else?), potato salad and other traditional tailgate fixin’s.
Alvarez recently created a lot of buzz when he announced the possibility of Wisconsin and Notre Dame scheduling a home-and-home football series during the middle of the next decade.
“They want to play other schools in the Big Ten,” Alvarez said of the Fighting Irish’s flirtation with the Badgers. “When you’re scheduling out as many years as we have to do, you try to schedule people who make sense.”
That means you won’t necessarily see all of the creampuffs disappear from the Badgers’ nonconference dessert cart. But Alvarez said you can expect an upgrade in future non-league schedules.
Not that it really seems to matter to UW football fans. It was announced last week that 94 percent of 2008’s season-ticket holders have renewed for 2009. That number has now climbed to 97 percent. Alvarez said he expects almost 100 percent renewal within weeks.
And that means that you will still see about 85,000 fans at Camp Randall Stadium jumping around between the third and fourth quarters.
Meanwhile, Alvarez said the UW athletic department anticipated the economic meltdown and acted accordingly. The department had already put $1.5 million in budget cuts in place prior to the start of last year.
The belt-tightening will continue, but Alvarez emphasized that no varsity sport faces possible elimination, unlike the early 1990s when then-A.D. Pat Richter painfully trimmed five sports from the department.
“We’ve just asked our people to be diligent with how they spend the money,” Alvarez said.
One budget-saving proposal made the news last week when the UW announced it will no longer print media guides for varsity sports. Michigan and Ohio State quickly followed suit. All of the information included in those guides, however, will be available at the athletic department’s Web site.
Another cut Alvarez mentioned impacts football travel this year to games at Minnesota and Purdue. Instead of flying round trip, the team will bus to Minneapolis and West Lafayette, Ind., and then fly back to Madison after the games.
“Everybody understands these are tough economic times,” Alvarez said. “A year ago our staff members sat down and brainstormed and came up with ways to save money. We kind of saw this coming. We got a jump on it. But we’re still very concerned.”
Put me in, coach
UW men’s basketball coach Bo Ryan will have an abbreviated summer vacation.
Ryan will coach the United States men’s team at it goes for the gold at the 24th World University Games, July 2-12 in Belgrade, Serbia.
“This is the next biggest event in the world to the Olympics,” Ryan said. “You get to do something for your country.”
Sixteen players have accepted invitations to the team’s training camp. That list includes: James Anderson (Oklahoma State); Talor Battle (Penn State); Trevor Booker (Clemson); Craig Brackins (Iowa State); Da’Sean Butler (West Virginia); Sherron Collins (Kansas); Mike Davis (Illinois); Corey Fisher (Villanova); Lazar Hayward (Marquette); Robbie Hummel (Purdue); JaJuan Johnson (Purdue); Dominique Jones (South Florida); Quincy Pondexter (Washington); Deon Thompson (North Carolina); Evan Turner (Ohio State); and Jarvis Varnado (Mississippi State).
The United States, which has claimed a medal in every World University Games men’s basketball competition since beginning play in 1965, has captured a record 13 gold medals, three silver medals and two bronze medals. The U.S. owns a 125-7 won-loss record in World University Games play. USA Basketball did not field a team in 2007 for the World University Games, however, the 2005 USA squad rolled to an 8-0 record to capture the gold medal in Izmir, Turkey.
Stone happy to sign O’Leary
UW women’s basketball coach Lisa Stone had a smile from ear-to-ear when asked about signing Parker High’s Catie O’Leary to a scholarship.
“We’re very excited,” Stone said. “She’s a great kid and we’re blessed this all worked out for us.”
Stone has been under fire for what producing what critics contend is an underachieving program. Her Badgers are 72-78 in five seasons. Stone says she ignores newspapers, radio and TV coverage and Internet blogs.
“I just do my job,” Stone said. “I don’t get caught up in that.”
Wisconsin started 10-1 last season, and then faded to 19-15.
“We lost three Big Ten games at the buzzer,” Stone said. “That’s the difference between 19 wins and 22 wins.
“But I like the team we got coming back next season.”
Eaves keen on NAHL team
UW men’s hockey coach Mike Eaves said he’ll follow Janesville’s expansion franchise in the Junior A North American Hockey League, but he doesn’t expect to be recruiting any of its players.
“History tells us the USHL is the stronger junior league. Ninety percent of the players in that league get college scholarships,” Eaves said. “The players in the NAHL can go there, get seasoning for a year, then move on to the USHL. The NAHL gives those kids a chance to get on the ice and show their skills. It gives kids a chance to keep playing hockey.”
As for his 2009-10 Badgers, Eaves said his squad is already getting fired up for the Feb. 6, 2010 game at Camp Randall Stadium against Michigan. That showdown has a chance to break the all-time outdoor hockey attendance record.
“We expect 80,000 people at Camp Randall,” Eaves said. “This is going to be a terrific event.”
It will be the Badgers’ second outdoor game in modern history. The UW hosted Ohio State in 2006 at Lambeau Field.
Johnson chases gold
UW women’s hockey coach Mark Johnson will spend the next season away from his defending NCAA champion Badgers as he coaches the U.S. hockey women’s team in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.
Johnson, of course, played a significant scoring role for the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team at Lake Placid, N.Y.
Now he’ll have a different role as he coaches a team favored to win the gold medal.
“You don’t get too many opportunities to do something like this,” Johnson said. “This is the pinnacle of our sport. I’m going to have a good group of players to work with.”
Johnson said the Winter Games should provide a shot in the arm to women’s hockey, especially in the United States.
“I think we’re going to see a spike in interest after the Vancouver Games.”
The Phelps factor
Eric Hansen, head coach of the UW men’s and women’s swimming teams, said the impact of Michael Phelps’ record-setting performance at last year’s Beijing Summer Olympic Games has been felt in the team’s budget.
Because of the high-tech swimming suits worn by Phelps and other Olympians, college teams have engaged in a miniature arms race to put their swimmers in the same gear.
“We’ve got 60 swimmers in our two programs,” Hansen said. “Each suit costs about $550 dollars. Each of our swimmers needs three suits. Do the math.”
That would be more than $100,000 just to keep the UW swimmers from being outgunned in terms of equipment.
“We’ve tightened our budget in other areas just to make room to buy those suits,” Hansen said.