You reap what you sow.
At its best, the Wisconsin football program is a reflection and representation of the school and the surrounding community. Gamedays bring the whole state together, putting on display the jovial and festive atmosphere that has given Madison its “MadTown” moniker. The collective spirit in Camp Randall often feels like one of the parties that has consistently dubbed UW as one of the best party schools in the country. In recruiting, the program prefers less-heralded or lauded prospects that have strong character and can be developed rather than stars that might bring with them off-the-field concerns — an ideology that similarly has Madison consistently ranked as one of the best cities in the country for young professionals to kickstart and grow their careers. The team’s head coach, Paul Chryst, is a living embodiment of the stereotypical “Midwestern Dad.” The list goes on.
Well, there are two sides to that coin. At its best, the Wisconsin football program is a reflection and representation of the school and the surrounding community. At its worst, now, it is too.
On Tuesday, the program released the much-expected news that Saturday’s game against Purdue will not be played. The team has had 27 positive cases of COVID-19 in the last week-and-a-half, one of which is Chryst. Although it hasn’t been officially announced, quarterback Graham Mertz was reportedly one of the positive cases as well.
A disconsolate Barry Alvarez, the school’s athletic director, said Tuesday that the program had yet to locate the root of the outbreak.
“We try to take a look at that,” Alvarez said. “Each of us talking about different situations. Analyzing – we’ve got one of the doctors on campus who has some research on tracking where the virus came from. He’s trying to help us. We’re trying to locate a source and trying to figure it all out. We haven’t put it together yet. That’s something we’re all trying to do. Hopefully we’ll get an answer soon.”
While the exact source and path of the virus may not become obvious, one thing already is – this is where the community is with the virus. And the Badgers are a reflection of that.
Look on any map or COVID tracker and it will show Wisconsin bright red, one of the worst hotspots in the country. In the last seven days, the state has recorded 81.1 cases per 100,000 people according to the CDC, trailing only North and South Dakota. Dane County is currently averaging 300 cases per day, according to the City of Madison, and a record-breaking 142 people are currently hospitalized.
If they are unable to play Michigan on November 14, the Badgers will likely be ineligible for the Big Ten Championship game. Many will be quick to cast blame on Kevin Warren and the Big Ten’s leadership – the decision to originally cancel, and then implement, the Big Ten season resulted in an eight-game schedule with no bye week or cushion for rescheduling missed games. In addition, the delayed season brought student athletes back on campus right when the majority of other students flocked and travelled to campus from all parts of the country, a decision many have reasoned would cause increased cases on campus and on the football team. Even further, the Big Ten is the only conference with a 21-day mandated quarantine and required observation period due to the conference’s concerns over Myocarditis – concerns that came from a study that is now largely being called into question.
Surely, if the Badgers are unable to finish their season or lose title game eligibility, that is where most of the blame should rest, right?
On Monday, Dane County reported the most cases it's ever had in a single day. Yes, that is somehow even more than when students first came back to campus. Over the course of two months, Dane County has only made it harder for the Badgers to avoid the virus.
With the Badgers reporting more cases with each press release and with their season hanging in the balance over Halloween weekend, Madison reported at least 13 campus area residences violated local public health orders. One of these had over 91 people present, the city said.
When compared to other Big Ten states, Wisconsin has over double the cases per 100,000 in the last seven days than Michigan (35.3), Ohio (26.5), Pennsylvania (18.2), Maryland (14.2) and New Jersey (18.1) and nearly-double Indiana (44) and Minnesota (46.5).
Right now, Wisconsin is the only Big Ten school with a major outbreak that has had to cancel games. For the most part, the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and PAC-12 have avoided the need to cancel multiple games or run the risk of Championship ineligibility. Conversely, Wisconsin has become the face of the coronavirus pandemic in college football.
This is not the result of back luck or bad scheduling. Now, just like in good times, the Badgers are a reflection of their school and community. Wisconsin, Dane County and Madison are in crisis with COVID-19. So too is UW’s season.