Erickson: Non-conference schedule bad, but not cowardly

first_imgThe Honey Badger may have been dubbed one of the fiercest animals on the planet, but its distant cousin, the Wisconsin Badger, has recently been getting some bad publicity.Earlier this week – Tuesday, to be exact – The Wall Street Journal ran an article titled “Why Beavers Are Braver Than Badgers.” The article called the Badgers cowardly in reference to their non-conference schedule, in which they have a 29-game winning streak against arguably much weaker opponents.At the same time, the article praises the Beavers, who have consistently played tougher opponents in their non-conference schedule through the same time frame.As The Journal notes, since the University of Wisconsin’s winning streak began, the teams they have played have a combined 87-190 (.314) record. Oregon State University’s non-conference opponents have a 185-59 (.758) combined record. These winning percentages represent the opposite sides of the spectrum; Wisconsin plays the weakest non-conference schedule, OSU plays the strongest.There’s no going around it; the Badgers play a weak non-conference schedule, but to call them cowardly? That might be pushing it.When it comes to scheduling these games, schools often make deals years in advance. When it comes time to actually play the game, they have no control over how good their opponent is. This is true all across the league.Can UW be blamed for the fact that UNLV is in the middle of a rebuilding phase, or that Wofford wanted a chance to play an Football Bowl Subdivision school? Frankly, no.Adding to the lack of control, Wisconsin football Head Coach Bret Bielema made it clear that he doesn’t want to schedule someone who isn’t willing to make the trip to Madison in return.“I think everybody can have a comment or opinion about scheduling,” Bielema said. “There’s a lot of things you have to work through. The thing that I will not do is go play somebody big-time BCS if they’re not going to come to Madison. That’s been the number one fault or number one thing is that people don’t want to come here. Which is a good thing, but it’s a bad thing when you’re trying to schedule.”It’s well known how tough of an atmosphere Camp Randall is to play in, and if teams absolutely don’t have to play here, nothing should stop them from saying no. It’s stupid and completely petty, but it’s a choice those schools have the right to make.Even putting this aside, the fact remains that the Badgers could definitely find stronger non-conference opponents, which could benefit them in the long run.Last season, Wisconsin faced Nevada-Las Vegas, San Jose State, Arizona State and Austin Peay. The Badgers won these four games by a combined 158-57. The only close game was Arizona State – also the strongest opponent – which UW won by the finger tips of Jay Valai.In 2009, Wisconsin hosted Northern Illinois, Fresno State and Wofford in the first three weeks of the season then traveled to Hawaii to finish the regular season. The Badgers didn’t beat their non-conference opponents by as great a margin (157-75), but not one of their opponents that year went on to finish with winning records.Stronger opponents would expose Wisconsin to tougher competition and the chance to prove it deserves to be one of the nation’s elite teams.But there are two problems within the FBS that may cause this scheduling issue to stick around. No. 1: Teams with losses don’t generally make it to big bowl games. No. 2: Football Championship Subdivision teams will always want the chance to play FBS schools, and like a nice big brother, FBS schools will allow them the opportunity.With the BCS being the convoluted system it is, now more than ever teams are striving for those perfect records. One way to do that is to have a slightly easier non-conference schedule. At some point, strength of schedule is considered, but for the most part it’s the record that matters first and the style with which teams win.For instance, last week the Badgers jumped from No. 11 to No. 8 in the AP poll. It’s a good bet they wouldn’t have jumped so many places if it weren’t for their all-out drubbing of the Rebels.Similarly, the FBS v. FCS games will always exist. These games give the FCS teams a chance to gain some exposure and to prove how good they may be.The Badgers could use a stronger schedule. Games could be more exciting, instead of complete blowouts, but it’s not going to change, especially in light of the fact that the Big Ten is expanding its conference schedule to nine games.“I don’t know anything about scheduling. … I frankly don’t care,” Bielema said. “We have to do what we have to do with it. The Big Ten has mandated now that we’re going to go to a nine-game schedule, so that dramatically affects the system for us.”Bielema doesn’t care about being called a coward and neither should the Badgers. The accusation may be a small blow to his ego, and the facts are proof enough UW doesn’t play a strong non-conference schedule. But how are the Badgers supposed to control how good other teams are at a given time?Wisconsin can’t, and they aren’t cowards because of it.Kelly is a junior majoring in journalism. Think the Badgers really are cowards? Let her know by emailing her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @kellyerickson4.last_img

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