Perhaps, as someone who keeps close tabs on Wisconsin athletics, I am being overly sensitive. But the anger that some have spewed toward the Wisconsin football team for what seems like the bulk of this season, is getting old.
I understand the frustration. Realistically, should a 7-5 Wisconsin team be playing for a Big Ten title on Saturday night? No. But, you can’t blame Wisconsin for being there. After all, it’s not the Badgers’ fault that Penn State and Ohio State were sanctioned by the NCAA.
You can tell me that Wisconsin doesn’t deserve to be in this situation. That’s fine. But don’t be mad at Wisconsin for running a clean program. Ohio State and Penn State cost themselves a chance at the Rose Bowl and that’s a fact.
We knew this was coming. Yes, the fact that Penn State picked up more wins this year than many anticipated makes the situation a bit worse, but it was no secret that whoever won the Legends Division was possibly not going to be truly “the best” team in the division. But to somehow fault Wisconsin for circumstances that were out of its control is absurd.
Perhaps, finally, this season will help people around the country realize the true implications of running a program that is in violation of NCAA mandates and/or the law. So many people brushed off the NCAA’s punishment of Ohio State football as little more than a slap on the wrist. Heck, just last weekend the good folks of Columbus continued to show their ignorance of the situation when they gave ousted ex-coach Jim Tressel a standing ovation. Yes, he helped guide the Buckeyes to a national title, but his blatant lying and questionable ethics are precisely the reason that OSU will not be playing for one this season.
You see, when a powerhouse is down, it hurts the whole conference. There just aren’t as many meaningful games when two-thirds of a division is ineligible for postseason play .
A few weeks ago, a twitter follower tried insisting to me that the Badgers hadn’t won a game that mattered all season. I beg to differ. Granted, Wisconsin lost to many (actually, pretty much all) of the best teams on the schedule, but, ultimately none of those games had any bearing on whether UW would be able to travel to Indianapolis for a second consecutive season. While that is a shame, haters out there have no one to blame but the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions. They are the ones who denied half of the Big Ten a pair of meaningful games. Fact is, the Badgers only needed to take care of Purdue, Illinois, and Indiana to secure a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game and they did just that.
To those complaining that Wisconsin did not have to play many of the better teams from the Leaders Division, I say, “tough.” This is what happens when you pair a shrinking conference schedule with a growing number of teams. It’s possible that some teams have easier conference slates than others. It happens. Besides, the last time I checked, individual schools are not allowed to dictate their conference opponents.
I would like to think that Big Ten fans deserve a better championship showdown than Nebraska and Wisconsin and I cannot blame anyone who truly loves this conference for feeling a bit disappointed, but blaming Wisconsin for playing in this game is simply misplaced anger. Try being upset with the likes of Ohio State and Penn State, you know, where the anger actually belongs.
For more of Nate's thoughts on the Badgers, Big Ten, and college sports in general follow him on Twitter @Nate_Woelfel.