Lots to be proud of in Athletics…and not just on the field

Blank at bowl

I had the privilege to ring in the New Year as part of the University of Wisconsin–Madison delegation at the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla. It was a thrill to be among the thousands of cheering alumni and students who made the trek to support the football team and to share their Badger pride.

It was a good fall for University of Wisconsin athletes. To list some of the key achievements:

  • First-year Football Coach Gary Andersen led his team to a strong 9-4 record, culminating in the Capital One Bowl berth.
  • The Women’s Volleyball team, also under a first-year coach, Kelly Sheffield, had a thrilling run all the way to the NCAA championship game.
  • The Men’s Soccer team had a successful season, snapping an 18-year NCAA tournament drought, and the Women’s Soccer player Rose Lavelle was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, the first time a member of the UW team has been so honored.
  • The Men’s Cross Country team placed ninth in the NCAA Championship meet, extending their streak to 18 consecutive top-10 finishes, while the women’s cross country team also had a successful season, finishing 21st at the NCAAs.
  • Our basketball and hockey programs are all off to strong starts.

When I took this job, more than one person warned me that my biggest problem would be overseeing the sports program at a Big Ten school.  I admit that the national media attention and big-time TV contracts in Football and Men’s Basketball do create some pressures that are not always beneficial to a student-athlete program or to universities.  But they also reflect the interest and pride that our alums take in watching our teams on the field.

One reason I’m proud to be at Wisconsin is that our athletics program takes the academic responsibilities of student-athletes seriously.  Athletic Director Barry Alvarez has consistently sent the message that the sports program and the coaches need to pay attention to the scholastic performance of UW athletes.

In 2013, for the fourth straight year, UW student-athletes earned a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.0. Last year five of our teams posted record-high GPAs, and this fall 68 UW student-athletes earned Academic All-Big-Ten honors.

The good news doesn’t stop there: Student-athletes at UW–Madison have volunteered nearly 5,000 hours in the community over the last six months as part of our newly revamped ‘Badgers Give Back’ program. A record-setting 1,385 of those hours came from the members of the Badger football team, which volunteered more than any other other team on campus. Badger football has been so committed to public outreach and volunteerism that the players have had to form a waiting list to participate in a weekly visit to the UW Children’s Hospital.

I am also proud to say that our coaches and athletes follow the rules…and in the NCAA there are lots of rules. The Wall Street Journal recently took on the task of rating all 125 major college football programs on factors such as academic performance, NCAA rule violation history and student-athlete conduct. UW ranked among the elite on both the on-the-field prowess scale and on the integrity scale.

As any sports fan knows, cheering for a winning team is always more fun. With our Badger athletic teams, fans get the added benefit of not only cheering for winners on the field of play, but off it as well.  Congratulations to the coaches and leaders of Badger athletes…and to our student-athletes for all that they accomplish both in class and in competitions.