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A real lesson courtesy of Badger coach Andersen

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Greg Peck
September 19, 2013

I've liked everything I've seen, read and heard of Gary Andersen since UW Athletic Director Barry Alvarez tapped him as head coach of the Badger football team early this year. None, more so, however, than how he has handled that Debacle in the Desert, the confounding, stupefying loss at Arizona State courtesy of the referees.

In case you're just returning from a trip to Alaska and missed the news on your iPad, here's a synopsis: The Badgers had driven into position to try a game-winning field goal in the closing minute at Arizona State in a game that stretched past midnight Saturday here in the Midwest. The coaches ordered quarterback Joel Stave to move the ball into better position for a short field goal attempt and take a knee (you don't need to be touched to be “downed” in college ball). Stave did so, as he apparently practiced, and placed the ball on the ground as he quickly went to a knee. Too quickly, perhaps, because even though the refs blew whistles to end the play, Arizona State players pounced on the ball, supposedly thinking it was a fumble—or that it was a good idea to waste precious seconds as the clock kept ticking. Whichever the case, the final 15 seconds ticked away before the teams realigned for the next play, in which Stave was to spike the ball and stop the clock so the field goal unit could take the field.

Some observers reason UW erred in its plan. They thought the team shouldn't have risked any chance of an officiating error, a bad snap or some other unforeseen circumstance by simply trying the field goal without first centering the ball. Of course, given the team's shaky field goal kicking, had that happened and the kick missed, Andersen's decision-making would have been the focus of criticism.

Badger fans were angry, to say the least, over the officiating blunder and the unjust outcome. The Pac-12 Conference, which hired the refs, reviewed the game film and acknowledged that the officials blew it and would be reprimanded and sanctioned.

Thanks a lot, Badger fans and even players say. That won't change the final score.

How did Andersen handle it? With more class than anyone might have expected.

“All we're really looking for is accountability in a situation and an opportunity to let the kids finish the games, which has been said many times, and let them be the deciding factor. “

That's what Andersen said when he heard about the Pac-12 commissioner's response amid his press conference Monday. He urged his players to take the ordeal as a learning experience and to remember that not everything in life is fair.

The UW's nonconference games are history, and Andersen is urging his players to put last weekend's disappointment behind them as the Purdue Boilermakers come to town Saturday. A week later, the Badgers face an enormous challenge when they head to Ohio State to face the highly ranked Buckeyes.

Critics of big-time college sports wonder how universities can pay coaches enormous sums far beyond those earned by some of their top educators. The revenue and prestige that winning teams can bring to colleges, however, keep pushing coaches' compensation ever higher.

Andersen has shown he knows football and has a great way of connecting with players. Who knows if these attributes will translate into more Big Ten titles for Bucky and perhaps the UW someday competing for a national title. If we want student-athletes to earn degrees and get real educations, however, the Badger players are learning valuable lessons in life, in handling adversity and in doing so with class from their new coach, Gary Andersen.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.



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