|Big Rivaly? Let's Discuss It Over the World Wide Web|
By: Chris West - WSS Senior Basketball Analyst
This weekend marks yet another installment of the annual college basketball meeting between Marquette and Wisconsin. For as long as I can remember, this game has been one of my favorite events of the year. The team that I rooted for most during my youth (Marquette) versus the team that has my current loyalties (Wisconsin). It’s a rare chance to see the two teams that I follow most closely duke it out on the floor. And it’s also a good time for some light-hearted back and forth between me and my friends who don't happen to share my hope that Wisconsin wins this one.
My friends and I aren't the only ones talking about the Marquette-Wisconsin game and mildly ribbing one another, though. Online sports message boards have created a unique place in our society where fans can form communities, talk about the things they love about their teams, and most importantly for our purposes, talk tons of shit about their rivals.
While there is a good deal of interesting commentary on sports message boards, there is a lot of garbage as well. This is particularly true around the time of a big rivalry game such as the Marquette-Wisconsin game. For years I have gleefully read angry partisan fans taking potshots at each other’s schools. Most banter is mildly amusing, and some is remarkably creative. But over the years there have been a few persistent rivalry-related topics that always seem to pop up on Marquette and Wisconsin message boards that always make me shake my fist in frustration at the author for penning such a stupid thought. These topics originate from both sides, and while they materialize most frequently around the time of the annual big game, they’re not exclusive to that time of year (yep, Marquette and Wisconsin fans like to complain about each other all year round).
With that in mind, I’d like to share with you the five dumbest things that fans repeatedly want to talk about on Marquette and Wisconsin message boards. Enjoy, and don't come crying to me if you feel noticeably dumber after pondering the logic behind the underlying assertions:
1. Wisconsin fans who want to talk academics, rather than basketball.
Typical quote: Well, Marquette won the game this year. But I can still rest easy knowing that our kids go to a much more highly regarded school and are actually getting a real education.
Hey - guy that's talking about how Wisconsin is a much more widely respected academic institution than Marquette, give me a heads-up when you’re finished. Because when you’re done making yourself look like an arrogant jerk and proving that you can’t win an argument by using facts relevant to the topic at hand, the rest of us will be over here talking basketball.
I’m going to be straight with you: I have two degrees from UW-Madison, and I think it’s a dandy school. In fact, I’ll be so bold as to say that I think overall, it’s a better and more highly regarded school than Marquette (calm down, Marquette grads—I think you’re school is pretty good, too). But you know when I don't care about any of this? When I’m either watching or talking about the basketball teams from either school.
If you feel the need to point out that UW-Madison has a higher U.S. News & World Reports ranking or better median ACT scores than Marquette after a basketball loss to the Golden Eagles, you’re basically (spoiler alert on a 20+ year old movie) Matt Damon's anti-Semitic character at the end of School Ties getting expelled from prep school, bitterly looking at Brendan Fraser's character and saying, "I'm still going to get into Harvard, and in ten years, nobody will remember any of this. But you'll still be a goddamned Jew.”[i] Which is to say that while everything you're saying is probably true, based on all of the relevant facts, you’re still a complete loser.
Please, if you’re going to be bitter after losing a game (or more annoyingly, be preemptively bitter before a game that you think you’re going to lose), either blame an off night by your guys or blame the refs. At least I can sometimes muster up some respect for people who use excuses related to the actual game.
2. Marquette fans who want to talk about academics instead of basketball.
Typical quote: Wisconsin may be a good school, but it’s gigantic, and has lots of easy courses to hide poor student-athletes in. Marquette's smaller size makes it impossible for our players to avoid taking a real college course loads.
Yes, while academic diversions are mostly the domain of obnoxious Wisconsin fans, there’s a small subset of Marquette fans that also like to talk about this pointless subject. I can almost respect the Marquette fans, as their assertions are typically related to academic rigor as applied to athletes, making the topic mildly relevant to basketball. But the Marquette fans ultimately end up losing me with their most frequent argument (above), basically because it’s blatantly wrong.
I’m not going to argue with the premise that there are places to hide academically challenged student-athletes at Wisconsin. That is a given. As I've frequently mentioned to friends, during my time as an undergrad at UW-Madison, I had one semester where I was enrolled in a 3-credit pet care class, a 4-credit Olympic History class which featured a final exam that was optional, and a 2-credit music appreciation class (let's just say that I got to see lots of football players up close that semester). And I doubt that the number of Wisconsin hoops players majoring in "Life Science Communications" is attributable to a coincidentally large number of players who all want to write for the Journal of Cranberries someday.
|My school has a better tech-ed program than yours|
But if you think there aren’t places to hide guys at virtually any university in the country, you’re kidding yourself. It might be easier at a big school, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible at a smaller school. For every music appreciation class I took at Madison, I can point you to a friend who went to a small liberal arts college and took something like "The Theory of Coaching Tennis" for credit.
I would challenge any Marquette fan to look through recent rosters and give me the number of players whose majors include the word "communication" in the title. And I would submit to you that the reason that "communication" pops up in Marquette players' majors so frequently is similar to the reason that Duke (a school no one would dispute is small and academically rigorous) has an inordinate amount of sociology majors on its basketball team. Yeah, I’ll let you do the math on that one.
(Of course, after clubbing basically every major at either university with the word "communication" in the title, I must sheepishly admit that one of my college majors was communication arts. And you wonder why I was forced to pursue an advanced degree?)
I’m not saying that it’s wrong or immoral to give an easier course load to guys who need it in order to stay eligible and play basketball. There are undoubtedly much more unsavory things than steering a student-athlete who can’t cut it in calculus to math course more in line with his abilities. Just recognize that it’s foolish for anyone to think that their own team is the only one not taking those sorts of measures.
3. Marquette fans who complain that Wisconsin fans should calm down about recent successes, given Wisconsin's lengthy history of futility.
Typical quote: Wisconsin fans have no sense of history and seem to think that basketball (and football, for that matter) didn’t exist before the mid-1990s. A little success now and they won’t shut up about it.
I never understand the logic of this one. Does Wisconsin have a basketball program that was either dreadful or mediocre (depending on how generous you want to be) for a long time? Yes. Was Marquette one of the top national powers of the 1970s? Absolutely. No objective person would deny either of these things. But I’m at a loss as to how this should impact my excitement level while watching any present day game. So yeah, if Sam Dekker throws down a big dunk, I’m going to pump my fist in the air, high five the person next to me, and maybe even yell about it a little. I’ll do those things because I’m focused on the Wisconsin-Ohio State game going on today, and not endlessly and pathetically lamenting that Kurt Portmann's Badger career in the 1980s was mildly disappointing (as some guy on the internet apparently thinks I should be doing).
Beyond the fact that I don't like to have my excitement level dictated by things that happened 40 years ago, I’m also left wondering when the argument that success is new to Wisconsin fans is going to end. In the last 20 years, Wisconsin has one losing season and 17 NCAA tournament appearances. It’s been two decades now. There isn't a player on Wisconsin's roster who is old enough to have meaningful memories of a time when the Badger basketball team wasn’t all that good. Can we all just agree that the only people making the argument that success is new to the Wisconsin basketball program are middle-aged guys who refuse to buy an iPod because their Discman works just fine?
4. Marquette fans who seem to think referring to Wisconsin as "UW-Madison" is somehow insulting or degrading.
Typical Quote: Fan #1: I saw Wisconsin play last night, and I think our guards are better. Fan #2: Don't you mean that you saw UW-Madison play last night?
This one has cropped up in recent years, and it has always struck me as a remarkably misguided attempt to antagonize a rival. Look, I get what Name Correction Guy is trying to do. He's reminding us that UW-Madison is just one of a nebulous system of UW schools, some of which are located in remote areas, have lesser academic rigor, and/or lack division one sports. Or alternately, he's trying to say that UW-Madison has the status of mid-major division one teams like UT-Chattanooga, or UC-Santa Barbara.
But am I honestly supposed to get upset by someone referring to my school by its proper name? Sure, I typically refer to the sports teams from UW-Madison as "Wisconsin," but that's mostly because that's how those teams have been branded and it’s what the media and general public tend to call them. It’s a convention. But it wouldn’t bother me in the least if the name "Wisconsin" was taken off of the team's basketball jerseys and replaced with "UW-Madison." When people ask me where I went to school, I typically respond UW-Madison or even more simply, Madison. It’s not embarrassing; it’s simply the name of the school.
The secondary mistake that Name Correction Guy makes is assuming that a hyphen and a city name necessarily degrade a school's good reputation. For example, when I hear the name AUT-Austin, I know immediately that it’s an outstanding academic university with big time sports teams, located in an amazing city (I think I've just made the case that I should have attended UT-Austin). And UNC-Chapel Hill evokes thoughts of a campus filled with gorgeous red brick and a legendary basketball program. I don't need to hear "Texas" or "North Carolina" without mention of a city name in order to remember that each of those schools is big-time in more ways than one. And I would submit that most people recognize UW-Madison in much the same way.
But if Name Correction Guy insists saying the Badgers come from UW-Madison, more power to him. I can’t think of a single person that would be upset about that or challenge him on it.
5. Fans of both schools who claim that Marquette-Wisconsin is not a rivalry.
Typical Quote: Sure, I want to win this game, but it’s just a non-conference game. I’d gladly trade a win over Wisconsin/Marquette for a victory over Villanova/Minnesota in February. Our conference foes are our real rivals.
Every year I see a handful of fans on both side claiming that the Marquette-Wisconsin game is their opponent's "Super Bowl," but for their own team the importance of the game ranks somewhere between a pre-season exhibition game against an NAIA team and an offseason intrasquad scrimmage. And every year I think it’s a dumb assertion.
I've heard all of the excuses:
"I’m from northern Wisconsin and have never had anything to do with Milwaukee or Marquette, so I could care less if we win that game."
"Winning a game that can help us win the conference is way more important than some random non-conference game."
"We don't recruit the same type of players, so why does it matter?"
|Of course, UW does have this advantage|
I understand the desire to minimize your opponent by deeming them not to be worthy of a single moment of your thought. But most of the time when you do something like that, you’re only lying to yourself. I’m here as a staunch Wisconsin fan to tell you that I consider Marquette a rival, and I view the rivalry as a strong one. I’d encourage all Marquette fans and fellow Wisconsin fans who feel otherwise to stop being so grumpy, accept reality, and join me in passionately wanting to beat your foe. A little passion is not a bad thing, even if you have to admit to your foe that they do, indeed, matter to you.
So there are the dumbest things that crop up on Marquette and Wisconsin message boards. Hope everyone enjoys the game thoroughly this weekend. And no matter who you're rooting for, please don't come to me on Monday and tell me how much better your school’s engineering program is (Editor's note - Wisconsin's. Wisconsin's is.)
[i] The Wisconsin Sport Spot does not endorse Matt Damon’s fictional character’s opinions.