Dear Barry Alvarez, John Wiley and Walter Dickey,
Rough week, huh? It really sucks that we won't be able to see the Badgers on TV this Saturday. I'm sure this doesn't apply to any of you, however, who could get a nice seat, likely indoors, at the Horseshoe in Columbus for Saturday's tilt against Ohio State with a quick call… from your assistant, that is. I'm not suggesting that you bother yourselves with those kinds of details, right?
Just like I'm sure the three of you didn't all get together in somebody's office (Barry's is probably the nicest, what with the unbelievable view of the glistening Camp Randall Stadium, financed by the fans) to write your letter to the fans blaming the cable companies for this weekend's unfortunate situation. It looks more like the work of someone at the Big Ten office or maybe even Fox Sports, your partner in concocting this Big Ten Network scheme.
Anyway, based on my reading of your letter, I'm not sure you really understand why everyone is so angry. It's not just that this game, the biggest of the season, will only be available to those willing to have a plastic dish nailed to their roofs. It's not that fans don't understand the whole business of having the Big Ten Network offered on extended basic cable vs. a premium sports tier either. Wisconsinites went through all that with the Packers and the NFL Network last year (still don't have that one, by the way), so we've heard all the business mumbo jumbo a few times.
It's that this feels like a shakedown. People in this state have taken a lot of pride in the UW for decades, even when the Badger football and basketball teams were horrible and played in mediocre venues. Their taxes have funded the building of one of the country's great universities which, needless to say, provides a healthy foundation for anything in the athletic realm. Sports fans have happily put up money for new projects. Camp Randall Stadium's new luxury boxes sold out at a hasty clip, the waiting list for football season tickets remains long, despite hefty "donations" required to retain them every year, and tickets for all hoops games -- even the crappy ones like Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne -- sell out some time in August.
So after eagerly shelling out dough to allow this slick athletic operation to strut its stuff, fans are now being nickel-and-dimed to see the football team on TV, forced to either sign a contract with a satellite company or go to a bar to watch the game. It's like checking into a four-star golf resort in Florida and then having to pay $10 to watch HBO in your room.
The requests for big money over the years have been justified by the promise that a well-funded athletic program would pay off in the pride department for UW alumni and Badger fans. The assumption has been that part of that pay-off would be big games played on big stages for a national audience, and that's been the case in recent years. Games against Ohio State, Michigan and other heavyweights are in demand by the networks and we're told this is key for recruiting. So how is moving games from ABC or ESPN to a network nobody gets supposed to be better for recruiting, a concept coach Bret Bielema has tried to sell?
And why should we blame Charter, a private company, for this situation when it was you guys, employees of the state all, who inked the deal that got us to this point?
Barry, you of all people should know that if you're going to take credit during the good times, you'd better be prepared to take the blame in the bad times. Well, this moment right here isn't exactly as good for your department's image as winning a Rose Bowl and your letter shows you shedding blame like Ron Dayne stiff-arming a linebacker.
Oh, and you need a comma when you say "On, Wisconsin!"