Spring hasn't so much sprung in Madison as it has stumbled through the door, late and disheveled. It's brought along the Spring Game, the annual intersquad scrimmage for the Wisconsin football team. And, as inconsiderate guests are wont to do, it's demanding more attention than it deserves.
'In the fall, we have one of the best environments in college football,' second-year head coach Brett Bielema said at a press conference this week. 'It jumped out to me when I first came here as an opponent and then obviously coaching in it the last three years. Everybody who comes talks about how much electricity is in Camp Randall on game day. Yet for the Spring Game, [attendance is only] 10,000 to 15,000 to maybe 20,000, if you're lucky.'
Bielema compares these numbers to what football powers like Nebraska and Texas attract for their intersquad scrimmages, which cap the spring practice period for most Division I football programs. Athletic director Barry Alvarez recently attended the Nebraska spring game in Lincoln, and the story he brought back made Bielema envious.
'Coach Alvarez made reference to either 50 [thousand] or 60 [thousand],' Bielema said. 'Nebraska has traditionally always gotten a very large crowd and built it up to be that way.'
Nebraska is also the school that fired coach Frank Solich in 2003 after the Cornhuskers finished 9-3. Does Bielema really want to coach under that kind of spotlight? And does he really think Badger fans are as juiced as Husker fans to give up a coveted spring afternoon to watch a glorified practice?
We're smarter than that, coach. Plus, we've been burned before.
Fans might recall that when Alvarez was coaching, he exercised extreme caution and kept Ron Dayne off the field for all of his Spring Games. More recently, Big Ten Freshman of the Year P.J. Hill got a stinger on the second play of last year's game and sat for the rest of the day. He'll be in street clothes on Saturday as he recovers from an off-season shoulder surgery.
Some fans are excited to see quarterbacks Tyler Donovan and Allan Evridge, who are competing for next season's starting job. But they'll be wearing green jerseys on Saturday, which means they can't be tackled and may not be suitably motivated to scramble around in the backfield.
But what really keeps the Spring Game from being any fun is the way Bielema divides up the teams. The starting offense doesn't play against the starting defense. Instead, the starters, wearing cardinal, line up opposite the reserves, clad in white.
Bielema bills it 'Ones against the world.' But unless there's a chance Brett Favre will be under center for the white squad, he can pocket that 'world' business.
Because Bielema is cautious about tipping his hand, the offensive game plan will be pretty vanilla. That gives the defenses a distinct advantage, which means a lot of three-and-out series and plenty of action for punter Ken DeBauche. And who doesn't love lots of punting?
The Spring Game used to be played on the same day as the Crazylegs Classic run and Butch's Bologna Bash at the Field House, which meant devoted Badger fans could spend all day around Camp Randall soaking in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the scrimmage isn't enough fun to carry the day by itself.
The real deal
Sports fans interested in actual competition this weekend have lots of other options.
The Badger softball team hosts Northwestern on Saturday at the Goodman Diamond, beginning at 1 p.m. The Badgers are 24-13 (5-5 Big Ten) this season and in the middle of the Big Ten pack.
The Wisconsin men's and women's crews will take on the Midwest Rowing Regatta on Lake Wingra starting bright and early (8 a.m.) on Saturday. Michigan is bringing its boats for the first time in several years, which makes the Midwest event more than just a showcase for the Badgers, as it's been for the past few years. The best place to watch is the Vilas Park beach.
Some of the nation's top high school ultimate teams will converge at Memorial High School this Saturday and Sunday for the annual MudBath tournament. In recent years, high school ultimate has exploded in popularity, with many teams pulling top athletes away from traditional spring sports like track and tennis. Local teams from Memorial and West have always fared well at MudBath, which is viewed as a warm-up for the national championship tournament.