If you somehow haven’t noticed at this point, University of Wisconsin athletics are now a national powerhouse in several sports. Our football and men’s basketball teams are almost always ranked in the top 25 in the nation, our women’s soccer team just had their player selected No. 1 overall in the NWSL draft, our women’s hockey team continues to be absurdly good and our storied men’s hockey program is back on the rise. Hell, we even rank in the top 25 for most revenue made by university athletic programs.
For years, one of UW’s trademarks has been that our athletics were great, but our academics were even better. But then, Gov. Scott Walker and the state Legislature decided it was time for all of the world-class education nonsense to come to a screeching halt. Unfortunately, they put UW administrators in a tough situation and, to be honest, our administration hasn’t done enough to get us out of it yet.
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What’s so weird about it is it feels like our athletic programs are all on the rise and our academic programs are either stuck in the same place or in decline.
I should say this — I’m really proud of our sports teams. I think our student athletes do a tremendous amount to bring positive attention to the university, especially when they do exemplary work in the classroom. I love UW athletics and I love our athletic teams.
But the fact of the matter is one of the biggest draws of attending UW is the international acclaim and recognition it has received. When people — especially those within Wisconsin — hear you attended UW they are really impressed. But that prestige feels like it’s fading.
Many of us choose to go to UW in the short term because it’s fun, beautiful, has great athletic programs or your parents went here. But in the long term, I would be shocked if most students coming here didn’t do so because they believed going here would help their future job prospects.
The point is this: We don’t want to end up being one of those schools where people only know the name because they have an awesome football team. We want to be one of those schools where people know the school because of the academics, and everything else that comes with is just an added bonus.
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The number of students who count on the prestige of UW athletics to help aid in their future success is far smaller than the number of students who count on UW academics.
I know the athletic department is a completely different entity from UW’s academic departments, but at some point, UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank has to recognize the direction the school is heading and try to fix it.
I don’t think that means necessarily curbing the athletic programs in any way, but it does mean ensuring our academics start trending in an upward direction for the first time in several years.
Connor Touhey ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in political science, history and journalism.