Fourth and Long
I was on my way to work this morning listening to Mike & Mike, as I often do, and I caught the news that Wisconsin and three time consecutive Big Ten football champion Head Coach Bret Bielema was taking his “talents” to Arkansas.
I have nothing against Bret Bielema, but this is a bad move for everyone involved.
This is bad for the Big Ten because their most successful head coach not under NCAA sanctions just left a team with three straight visits to the Rose Bowl for a school in the SEC that has never won a conference title. That says a lot about Big Ten football compared to the SEC.
This is bad for Wisconsin because this is when they should be their best at recruiting. Three straight conference titles in a Mid West region whose fan base (including prep players) are very loyal to the Big Ten. In theory, the Badgers should be getting the pick of the litter, the best of all prep players from Pennsylvania to Minnesota.
This is bad for the Wisconsin fan base because on his way out the door Bielema is telling everyone that will listen that his decision to leave Madison is based largely on the athletic department’s inability to retain assistant football coaches. This means the fan base and athletic department have not raised enough money to pay assistants comparably to other high profile jobs (read SEC schools).
This is bad for Bret Bielema because he goes from being a big fish in a great lake to a little fish in a big ocean. Nick Saban and Alabama… Les Miles and LSU… these are great whites and they are both in same division as the Razorbacks. The facilities at Arkansas are top notch and, from what I understand, very impressive…. until you compare them to the football complex and stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
This is bad for Arkansas too. Truth is while Bielema has been winning in Wisconsin most people have never heard of the guy. He may be able to recruit in Iowa where he played college ball, but to high school players in Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina he will be the former Big Ten coach not named Urban Meyer, Brady Hoke, Mark Dantonio or Bill O’Brien.
If the Razorbacks really wanted to compete in the SEC they would have lured a big name, the kind of name that makes people forget that your school finished 4-8 last season. Big names require big checks though and while Arkansas is willing to spend more money than Wisconsin they can’t “make it rain” like the folks in Alabama can. The Razorbacks got their man… at least the best they could afford.
Last, but not least, this is bad for college football. The hypocritical rules surrounding the inability for students to transfer compared to the ease with which coaches can leave one program for another is only highlighted by Bielema’s decision. After back-to-back Rose Bowls, Bielema signed a contract extension with Wisconsin in January of this year. Not even 12 months after agreeing to stay in Madison until 2017 Bielema chose to leave his players. Seems harsh, but to the 19-year old freshman who came to Wisconsin because you came to his momma’s house and asked him too, that is exactly what he did.
Bielema is doing what I am sure he feels is best for he and his family. In the end I think we will find it was not only not good for them, but in fact bad for everyone. Except maybe Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M, I bet they are very pleased.
David Friedman is a long-time contributor to Roanoke-Chowan Publications. A Bertie High School graduate, he and his wife currently reside in Wilmington. David can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.