The die was cast when Donna Shalala hired Pat Richter to be Athletic Director at UW-Madison in 1989, and shortly after he signed on to an athletic program in horrid disarray, Richter hired an assistant football coach from Notre Dame named Barry Alvarez to attempt to bring the football program, which had languished under Don Morton, back to life. When Richter stepped down on the first day of April, 2004, and turned the AD’s job over to Alvarez, the transformation was complete.
The University of Wisconsin at Madison was in the business of NCAA Division One athletics, big-time.
Once you’ve made the decision to get into that business, you’re running with the big dogs, and you’ve got to keep up. Alvarez wants a 77-million-dollar facility for sports medicine, strength and conditioning, and jock academics that would be sort of “jock central” for every student-athlete on campus. He asked for it in 2008 and the Board of Regents approved it, only to have the project slapped down by the state Department of Administration.
He’s asking for it again; and it’s not likely to come up for serious review until after the fall elections. And before you say to yourself “is Alvarez nuts? In THIS economy?” consider this: if you’re going to run with the big dogs, you’ve got to (fill in your own euphemism for “pee in the tall grass”). Alvarez is right when he says the athletic weight room and locker rooms are among the shabbiest in the Big Ten (or eleven or twelve or whatever it is now).
Conference schools Purdue, Iowa, Ohio State, Indiana, Minnesota, and Michigan have all recently spent a whole bunch of that Big Ten Network money that’s rolling in now (6 million bucks a year, here, minimum) and more, to upgrade their facilities. Alvarez says the addition of Nebraska, with its premiere football program, really ups the ante, and he warns that soon, we will start losing recruits in all sports, not just football, because the other Big Ten schools will have facilities that are far superior. Think this sort of thing doesn’t matter to young jocks? Think again.
Whether or not you agree that we should spend 77 million bucks on another jock palace; no matter what you think about the role and place of collegiate athletics at the UW; regardless of your personal feelings about Barry Alvarez, he’s right. If we don’t spend the money and build it, we’re going to slide right back into the Ade Sponberg/Don Morton era.
If you’re going to run with the big dogs, you can’t stay on the porch.