UW fans fairly united against divisions

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Jeff Potrykus
Friday, September 3, 2010
— So if you’re a University of Wisconsin football fan, whether passionate or just on the periphery of the action, you’re probably feeling somewhat empty and perhaps a bit angry since Thursday.

When the Big Ten Conference on Wednesday night revealed its pair of six-team divisions for football, beginning in 2011 with the arrival of Nebraska, you learned:

-- The Badgers and rival Minnesota will be in opposite divisions. The teams will face each other every season because the Gophers are Wisconsin’s protected crossover rival, but the game won’t be the regular-season finale in 2011 or ’12.

-- The Badgers won’t face Iowa or Northwestern every season because the Hawkeyes and Wildcats also are in the division opposite Wisconsin.

-- You’ll see a lot more of Illinois, Indiana and Purdue.

Welcome to the new Big Ten, UW fans.

The divisions, with names to be determined:

Division 1—Wisconsin, Ohio State, Penn State, Illinois, Indiana and Purdue.
Division 2—Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota and Northwestern.

Each team will play five divisional games, a sixth game against its protected rival in the opposite division and crossover games against two teams for two-year cycles.

The division winners are to meet for the Big Ten title on Dec. 3 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind.

According to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany:

No team will play more than two consecutive league road games and every team will have two home games and two road games in each half of its league schedule.

Also, Big Ten officials still plan to study expanding to nine league games beginning with the 2015 season.

“I’m so proud of our athletic directors,” Delany said. “I’m very proud of our presidents, how people have worked together to get us here.”

While league officials were in the process of devising the divisions and schedules, UW coach Bret Bielema acknowledged he hoped to see his team close each season against Nebraska and made that request to the league office.

Sorry, coach, but that isn’t happening.

However, Wisconsin does open 2011 Big Ten play on Oct. 1 against visiting Nebraska and opens 2012 league play on Sept. 29 at Nebraska.

UW junior defensive end J.J. Watt was asked Wednesday, before the divisions were officially announced, if he could comment.

“Not a chance,” Watt said with a broad grin.

Bielema and UW athletic director Barry Alvarez were not available for live comment.

However, the UW officials released statements from both.

“This is an ever-changing world in college football, and we are excited to be a part of it,” Bielema said in the release. “I know a lot of different scenarios were discussed at the administrative level and we are pleased with the results.

“It was important to us to keep the longest-running continuous rivalry in college football history alive, so we are happy that we will play Minnesota every year. And we’ll be part of history when we host Nebraska in its first Big Ten Conference game next October.”

Wisconsin’s 2011 league schedule: Oct. 1, vs. Nebraska, Oct. 8, (bye); Oct. 15, vs. Indiana; Oct. 22, at Michigan State; Oct. 29, at Ohio State; Nov. 5, vs. Purdue; Nov. 12, at Minnesota; Nov. 19, at Illinois; Nov. 26, vs. Penn State.

“The Big Ten staff and directors of athletics focused on three criteria as we discussed the divisional alignments: competitive equality, maintaining traditional rivalries and geography,” Alvarez said in a release. “A lot went into this and there was a lot of give and take amongst all the schools in the conference.

“I’m happy with the way things have turned out for our program and our department.”

Wisconsin fans might not feel that love.

A glance at the comments readers posted under various stories on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel site revealed anger.

Fans criticized the league in general and Alvarez in particular.

UW officials posted a letter from Alvarez on www.uwbadgers.com.

After repeating much of the information from the release, the letter concluded:

“I’m particularly thrilled to confirm for you that Camp Randall Stadium will be the site of Nebraska’s first Big Ten Conference football game on Oct. 1, 2011.

“I’m also excited that our rivalry with Minnesota—the longest such rivalry in Bowl Subdivision history—will continue on an annual basis.

“There is a lot of excitement on campuses all across the Big Ten. At this time next year, the Big Ten will start the football season with schools in two divisions vying for a spot in the first Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis.

“Thanks, as always, for your support! On, Wisconsin!”

Based on initial feedback, UW fans weren’t singing that song with much enthusiasm.

“We are excited to be a part of it.”

Last updated: 3:04 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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