Marquette and Wisconsin – Why It’s Not A Rivalry
I do in fact understand the importance of this game. If nothing else, the annual Wisconsin vs. Marquette basketball match-up allows each team the opportunity to beat a “quality team”, get a boost in the strength of schedule department that can lead to a better RPI ranking and a better NCAA tournament seed. Most in-state sports competitions see that as a back-burner issue, but it’s always something to consider. The need to be the best in the area, in the state, in the region, is what drives most non-conference rivalries. Pittsburgh and Penn State, Louisville and Kentucky, and certainly Marquette and Wisconsin are all match-ups that will do nothing to determine conference championships. But it’s a pride thing, and that can sometimes lead to a more bitter rivalry than between hated in-conference foes.
But in all honesty, it’s hard to consider what Marquette and Wisconsin have with each other a rivalry. It is so unique compared to other in-conference or in-state match-ups because of the fact that it doesn’t cross sports. Basketball is the only major sport in which these two teams face off, and it brings about the rarest of situations in other existing rivalries: cheering for the other team.
Duke and North Carolina is the most bitter of all college basketball rivalries. Nowhere else in American sports is there so much hatred packed within a 10-mile distance between two arenas. Basketball is the marquee sport at both schools and football comes up a bit short in success for the two universities. But you’ll never see a Duke fan cheer for UNC football in any regard. That is a sin in that part of the country.
Everything Boston and New York is just nasty when it comes to sports: Yankees and Red Sox, Celtics and Knicks, Patriots and Jets, Bruins and both New York NHL teams. Each city has a team represented in each major sport, and it’s a great source of pride to get a victory over the other city. Fans in the northeast claim to be some of the most loyal in the nation.
When it comes to the battle between Marquette and Wisconsin, that hatred just isn’t there. It’s impossible. While basketball fans talk the appropriate trash and hope for a victory over their I-94 opponent, it is only localized to one major sport. I don’t know the emotions that are stirred-up in match-ups of swimming, volleyball, track or other sports, but that all pales in comparison to history. And history shows that Marquette fans are consistent Wisconsin Badger football and hockey fans.
When Marquette canceled it’s football program in 1960, it was at the time when Badger football was successful and appeared in, but lost, a stretch of Rose Bowls. The Big Ten was incredibly competitive during the 60s and 70s and was a great source of pride for statewide football fans. In the 90s when the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks were stuck in slumps, Wisconsin Badger and Green Bay Packer football both rose to prominence together, and the Badgers picked up 3 Rose Bowls in that stretch.
The sense of a rivalry in it’s true definition has picked up a bit during the past decade. We are in a rare period where both schools have equally successful basketball programs. And it’s easy to see that both teams battle hard against each other, harder than they do in any other non-conference game. There is no shortage of pride for being the best college basketball team in the state. But they are not going to battle in hockey later in the winter, there won’t be a big match-up in football next fall. Once this game is over, the trash talk will continue in favor of the winner until next year’s basketball game. But Marquette will go right back to rooting for Wisconsin’s football and hockey teams. Golden Eagle fans will shed their blue and gold for Badger red and white for the Rose Bowl. It is that cross-school support that makes this the most unique rivalry in the country.
So head out to your local bar, grab a seat for the game tomorrow, the right to be the best basketball team in the state. Cheer on your preferred team, but make sure to raise your glass to your neighbor after it’s all over.
(like most southeastern Wisconsinites, I have family and friends from both universities, and share allegiances with both)