The University of Wisconsin football team took a break from studying and practice sessions Sunday to enjoy lunch at an Outback Steakhouse in Madison, compliments of the Outback Bowl, which will host the Badgers and the Georgia Bulldogs in its New Year’s Day game.
Wisconsin originally scheduled a bowl practice Sunday afternoon but UW coach Barry Alvarez cancelled it, noting that more than 80 Badgers had a final exam on Saturday, in addition to a late afternoon practice.
“That’s why I gave them today off. Guys have been up all night. You can tell they’re tired,” Alvarez said. “We’ve been able to start implementing the game plan, yet we’ve had probably eight practices where we’ve worked with the young guys. I think we’ve got some good out of that. All in all I’m pleased with where we are.”
Wisconsin will practice in Madison Monday through Wednesday this week, then take two days off before flying to Tampa, Fla., Christmas Day. The Badgers begin practicing in Tampa Dec. 26.
”Maybe we could have left on the 23rd, after finals,” Alvarez said. “But it will work out fine. I know the guys that will have a chance to get home, it’s still special to be able to get home for Christmas. At least half of our guys will be able to do that.”
Bowl season presents a fine balancing act for players and coaches. Final exams began Thursday at Wisconsin and continue through Wednesday; practices and conditioning sessions are scheduled to accommodate as many test itineraries as possible. Coaches, meanwhile, have been immersed heavily in recruiting. The holiday season further complicates the calendar.
“What we try to do is make sure that everyone has some place to go for Christmas,” Alvarez said. “We have enough guys … from within driving distance that many of our players can go home for the afternoon of the 22nd, the 23rd, the 24th… We are always checking in as coaches to make sure they have someplace to go to spend Christmas. If not they can come into our homes.”
Alvarez said Sunday he knew six of his players were taking part in that day’s commencement ceremonies: defensive tackle Jason Jefferson, defensive end Jonathan Welsh, long snapper Matt Katula, tight end Tony Paciotti and offensive tackles Morgan Davis and Mike Lorenz.
All told 24 Badgers will play their last collegiate game Jan. 1. At least half, though, will play in the NFL next year. Alvarez has led Wisconsin to nine previous bowl games and said he has not had any problems with seniors losing focus leading up to their final game. However, he did have a clear message for his pro-bound players.
“I met with the players, I told them, ‘don’t let some agent take away from your time at a bowl game,” he said. “You guys [reporters] know how much I love bowl games. It was a great experience. When I was a young kid and couldn’t afford to go to Miami or see the things that I was exposed to—ever since then I thought they were special. And I want my guys to be able to experience them and not be distracted by some agent.”
Under NCAA rules, players are permitted to talk to agents and retain their amateur status but cannot accept representation—contractually or through oral agreement—or take anything of value from an agent.
“To sit down at a meal and take two hours of your time—it’s not worth it,” Alvarez said. “Wait until the bowl game is over and then you can talk to all the agents you want.”