MADISON - Seeing fellow Big Ten schools like Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State pack its stadiums with upwards of 60,000 fans for a spring scrimmage year after year, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema no longer is a subscriber to the theory that Camp Randall Stadium will one day be full to capacity for his team’s spring game scrimmage.
“It is what it is,” he said Monday. “You always want to try to I want to try to create as great an environment as I can that's similar to what camp Randall will be like in the fall. Which I know it will never get to that point. But the kids like it.”
In reality the results are fitting for a blue-collared program like Wisconsin, as Bielema and his coaching staff prefer to use the spring game as another work day instead of a huge spectacle.
But when UW takes the field Saturday for its 15th and final practice of the spring season, UW officials again will have put together an advertising scheme to hopefully increase the attendance. For the second straight season, the athletic department will charge $5 for tickets with proceeds benefiting the UW Center for Nonprofits in the UW School of Human Ecology.
“Robin Douthitt (the dean of UW School of Human Ecology) has been a tremendous friend of ours over the years,” said UW athletic director Barry Alvarez. “She’s been on the athletic board and worked closely with us. When she asked, there is no way I could say no … Hopefully (the game) will continue to grow and benefit them.”
Money raised through ticket sales will specifically help fund student internships for UW students within nonprofit organizations. According to Douthitt, demand for student interns is significant and growing, resulting in many nonprofit organizations not having the financial capacity to support students (stipends, travel expenses, etc.).
The fund developed from the ticket sales at the game will launch a program to place UW students in nonprofit organizations, providing the students with critical practicum experiences while also benefitting the exponentially expanding nonprofit sector with next-generation talent.
After putting a five dollar price tag on last year’s spring game to benefit the UW School of Nursing, charging for an event that had been free for the public for many years, Alvarez was understandably curious as to the response and turnout.
The official crowd was a disappointing 11,169 with Alvarez presenting a check for just over $50,000 to the school. But while the turnout was disappointing, Alvarez said helping the UW School of Nursing with its fundraising wasn’t, especially with an anonymous donor presenting a check to the school of $1 million three weeks before the game.
“We made a commitment and the individual told the school of nursing because of our commitment, he made a commitment,” said Alvarez. “The awareness certainly paid off.”
Not only is UW hoping to open the spring game to a new audience, preceding the game will be the annual Crazylegs Classic, an 8K run and two-mile walk that starts at 10 a.m. at the Capitol Square and finish inside Camp Randall Stadium. Pre-registration for the 31st annual run has already reached 40,000 participants, and UW is hoping to get a good portion of those people to stick around for the game.
UW also has signed Culvers as the official sponsor, gotten Chevrolet to donate a car for a giveaway and put together a Badgers Kids fair to make the event more family friendly.
“I know we're going to do some interactive things with the fan that's will hopefully create a little momentum,” said Bielema. “But I think the biggest driving factor really is the weather. That's definitely going to have as big an impact as anything.”
Unfortunately for Bielema and Wisconsin, the forecast for Saturday’s spring game is in the mid 40s with a 70 percent chance of rain - more seasonal than what residents in the state’s capital have been accustomed to over the last several months. Even with the sketching weather, Alvarez believes that shouldn’t stop fans from coming to see its two-time defending Big Ten champions while contributing to a worthy on-campus cause.
“There will be a few questions to be answered this spring,” said Alvarez. “Fans have an opportunity to get a preview of next year's team and see some of the young players and some of the answers we're going to have."
Admission: $5 (proceeds go to the UW Center for Nonprofits). Stadium gates 1, 8, 9 and 10 open at 3 p.m. CT. Parking is available in Lots 16, 17 and 18 as space allows for $10. Lot 60 is free, but there will be no shuttle buses.
TV: The game will be streamed live on the Big Ten Digital Network and BTN2Go. The Big Ten Network will televise the game at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday.
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