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Monday, June 24, 2024
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Senior quarterback Russell Wilson needed to be particularly effective as a passer for the Wisconsin offense to succeed on Monday, with Oregon's run defense slowing down Montee Ball. Russell Wilson connected with Jared Abbrederis on a deep pass early in the game to set the tone for a style of offense slightly different than what Badger fans are used to seeing.

Are the Badgers ready for a new era of competition?

With the addition of Oregon, Washington, UCLA and USC to the Big Ten Conference, Wisconsin sports fans and athletes will experience changes in travel, rivalries and gamedays.

Two years ago, the news that the University of Southern California and UCLA would leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten swept through the sports world. 

It would be a tough blow for the Pac-12, but rumors circulated that Boise State or San Diego State would be added to offset the loss. It was by no means a fatal wound. Then, just 10 months ago, everything fell apart. 

The University of Colorado-Boulder Board of Regents announced they would rejoin the Big 12 conference in July 2023, having left it for the Pac-10 just 12 years prior. That opened the door for Oregon and Washington to jump to the Big Ten, while Arizona, Arizona State and Utah would soon after defect to the Big 12, joining Colorado. By August, four teams were remaining in the Conference of Champions. 

Today, there are only two. 

Despite the Big Ten arguably landing the killing blow on college sports’ most successful conference — they didn’t call it the Conference of Champions for nothing, folks — the Big Ten will now look to create enough good television to absolve themselves of that blame. As the fall approaches and the Big Ten draws closer to becoming the Big 18, what will this new conference look like? And what are the changes that fans may see this inaugural season?

The bad

Ignoring even some of the more inexplicable conference realignment moves — why are two colleges on the San Francisco Bay in the Atlantic Coast Conference? —  every pitfall of this move will be because of the new distance between conference opponents. Yes, these are new teams with their own rich histories, but the most visible and vital changes will be felt because of the distance. 

Travel challenges for athletes and fans will be the major downfall of this realignment. Schools will need to spend more money on flights to the West Coast, and former Pac-12 teams will have to fly cross-country for practically every away game. 

Yes, Rutgers and Maryland were conference members despite being on the East Coast, but a flight from Wisconsin to Maryland is only around two hours. A flight from Wisconsin to Los Angeles is six. For sports like softball, a three-game weekend series just became a four-or five-day process. 

Eight players from the University of Washington have already entered the transfer portal, including ace Ruby Meylan. With these losses, the team will only return one starter next season. On social media, some have theorized that these moves have been because players don’t wish to travel cross-country each weekend. With these transfers and graduating seniors, the program may not have a single pitcher who has pitched in college next year, a sad turn for a program that just last year went 44-15 to advance to the Women’s College World Series. 

Temperature will also be a significant factor in this change. Midwest winters are cold, and teams from the West Coast will have to acclimate and train to play — and play well — in those climates. Much of the allure of West Coast schools is the beautiful weather for athletes to play in. With this move, many may realize this isn’t what they signed up for. 

Perhaps the saddest casualty of this move, however, will be the loss of rivalries and, with it, the electricity of gamedays against a team you really, really want to beat. Washington and Oregon both lose their arch-rivals in this move, and fans will be far less likely to schlep cross-country to cheer on their team in a conference match-up. 

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And while games against time-honored rivals like Minnesota and Iowa will likely be protected, the growing of the conference will make it so that the Badgers don’t face off against other conference rivals every year. The loss of old rivals and the inability to create new rivals with the size of the conference will ultimately lead to less excitement around each game. 

Distance may be the killer with the new, expanded Big Ten, but whether athletes and fans alike allow that to harm their love of the games will be up to them this next year. 

The good

It certainly will be exciting television. There will be a rematch of the 2024 College Football National title game in October, and teams that have only played each other at Rose Bowls before will meet. The excellence brought by these four teams will be a spectacle to watch as the year progresses, and the money and viewership will surely flow in, as intended by the move. 

USC’s Juju Watkins will visit the Kohl Center this season to face off against Badger Women’s Basketball in a matchup that may very well sell out. USC spent the offseason racking up transfers like Stanford’s Kiki Iriafen and will look to live up to the ‘superteam’ name that many in the media have given them. 

UCLA softball, currently fighting in the Women’s College World Series for their 13th National Title, will pose a significant threat to Northwestern’s dominance over the Big Ten, and the level of play that former Pac-12 teams enter on will allow the Badgers to elevate their own gameplay by facing off against likely-ranked opponents. 

While historic rivalries will suffer, new rivalries can now be formed. For far too long, the University of Washington-Seattle has gotten away with being called UW — phonetically UDub — and now the Badgers can show their dominance in a UW-off. 

Similarly, a game against the Oregon Ducks may finally show Wisconsinites the correct pronunciation of the state’s name (not to be confused with Oregon, Wisconsin, which is pronounced differently, for some reason). 

And as much as the temperature will be a genuine factor in the outcomes of games, Badger fans will surely delight in chirping at Southern California schools forced to play football during a midwest November. Those who hit the road for an away game may also be treated to warmer temperatures and a nice vacation while cheering for the Badgers. 

For all of the changes that will be occurring, not all of them are negative. The silver linings may be thin, but they are still there. 

The future

Aside from the changes Badger fans will feel, how will this change go for athletes?

The four teams joining the Big Ten are all traditionally good at football and will by no means serve as easy wins for the Badgers to rack up. 

Washington competed in the title game just earlier this year against the Michigan Wolverines and will look to build on its success. Oregon went 12-2, and UCLA and USC both went 8-5 last year. For them, too, it'll be a large change going from being the best of the conference to regularly matching up against top Big Ten teams like Michigan and Ohio State. 

This fall, Badger Football will be facing off against the USC Trojans and the Oregon Ducks to begin the new era of the Big Ten. Both of these schools just lost their Heisman-finalist starting quarterbacks, Caleb Williams and Bo Nix, respectively, to the NFL Draft and are likely looking to both returning players and transfers to lead up their offense for the next year. 

Unfortunately, the Badgers are in a similar position, with Tanner Mordecai signing with the San Francisco 49ers and Nick Evers transferring to the University of Connecticut. Wisconsin will look between Senior Transfer from Miami Tyler Van Dyke and redshirt sophomore Braedyn Locke to fill the QB spot against foes both new and old. 

In Volleyball, too, the Badgers will face off against new conference foes, though volleyball will play all four teams rather than just two. Oregon and Washington will visit the Field House this fall, and the Badgers will have to travel to Los Angeles to face off against the Bruins and Trojans. 

While Oregon and USC are perpetually good and will pose a real challenge, Washington and UCLA may be easier opponents for a Badger team that looks to continue their streak of dominance and win another national title.

Ultimately, conference realignment is a ridiculous, unnecessary move that will likely have more drawbacks than benefits, but it is also what we are stuck with for the foreseeable future. 

Sports have always been something that brought people together, and whether it was the gentle teasing after an Axe game from a former Badger to a Golden Gopher or the community found in sharing a hot dog with a stranger at a tailgate, the sun will still rise in the morning and the games will still go on. 

Fans and athletes alike will learn to live with these changes, and maybe, one day they’ll even come to love them. 

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Annika Bereny

Annika Bereny is a Senior Staff Writer and the former Special Pages Editor for The Daily Cardinal. She has written in-depth for state and campus news. Follow her on Twitter at @annikabereny.

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