This whole Gordon Gee thing has a lot of people saying, "Well, if it was anyone else..." Indeed, if this was another athletic director spouting off irresponsible and inappropriate barbs at Catholics, Notre Dame and anything/anyone not pro-Big Ten (pro-Ohio State, really), it almost assuredly wouldn't trigger a news cycle that's two days long and counting. There are very few other college sports figures who would generate this kind of hubbub, and much of the outrage/faux-outrage/whatever is due to the fact that we're talking about The Ohio State University that people generally love to hate.
Turns out, Gee exhibited some preemptive damage control skills in reaching out to Alvarez last week (he must've gotten wind of the comments getting out). Wisconsin released this statement from Alvarez late Friday afternoon:
"Gordon Gee called me to apologize last week regarding comments he knew would be made public. I have never said that about Bret, nor had those feelings towards him. I accepted Gordon's apology and consider the matter closed."
As a refresher, Gee took some shots at Bielema during a meeting of Ohio State's Athletic Council on Dec. 5, 2012, that seemingly attempted to transfer some distaste toward the former Badgers coach upon Alvarez. Here's the full transcript of Gee's Wisconsin-related comments beginning at the 14:31 mark of the audio linked above. Keep in mind these comments were made before Gary Andersen was hired.
"Someone was saying to me, well, you know, Bret Bielema leaving ... that was a blessing for Wisconsin. And they knew it, because he was under tremendous pressure. They didn't like him. Barry Alvarez thought he was a thug. And he left just ahead of the sheriff.
"That's exactly what happened with him. We were at the conference conversations; I actually talked with Barry -- well I didn't talk to him about Bielema -- but I said, 'Well, you could just see that there was a lot of unhappiness.' So [Bielema] did not leave for a necessarily better job, he left ahead of the sheriff. Now, I don't know who they're going to hire, but I would not want to have Barry Alvarez as my athletic director. I happen to like Barry a lot as a person, but, you know, a guy who is kind of bigger than life and knows how to run a football program better than the football coach, it must be difficult for him up there, right?"
Writing about Gee's comments was always akin to stoking the fire, but the fact of the matter is Gee just hit on so damn much with these bad jokes -- and really, that's all they were -- that we couldn't help but talk about it. The Wisconsin angle is two-fold, and the part that's generated the most buzz is one we're honestly trying to get away from. Wisconsin fans -- statewide, so most notably Green Bay Packers fans -- are notoriously passionate, and the notoriety there stems from how long it took everyone to get over the Brett Favre saga. The fact that Bielema shares the same first name minus one 'T' as the former Packers quarterback triggers all those silly "Bert" jokes that are kinda funny because Bert is a funny name, but really not all that much funnier than anything Gee said, either.
There are many Wisconsin fans -- a majority, I'd say -- that really couldn't care less about Bielema's offseason endeavors in pandering to trolls on Twitter and taking ill-advised, unnecessary jabs at his critics/old rivals.* It's a great aspect of a fanbase that's not only tired of the offseason, but reflective of their football team's current mantra. From Barry Alvarez himself to players and coaches, the Badgers recognize they have a remarkable amount to prove for a team that just reached three straight Rose Bowls. An 8-6 mark stinks if you're a big-time college football program, no matter if that sixth loss came in Pasadena. That's been a nice undercurrent among the relentlessly positive reviews of the young Gary Andersen era -- it's cool that he keeps an open-door policy and blasts Macklemore at practice, but what's really important is that Wisconsin has a tremendous opportunity to build something valuable and long-standing as the Big Ten landscape continually shifts by the year.
*This was kinda funny, though.
So all that is the first relevant, to these parts, angle of this Gee nonsense. The second involves his comments that address Alvarez, in relation to Bielema. Yeah, Bielema was hardly as well liked as the winner of three straight Big Ten titles should've been. It happens. Without attacking or defending Bielema, his tenure at UW could've been handled better by most parties involved. That's the case essentially everywhere, and that's why all we got today was a three-sentence statement from Alvarez. The late-Friday afternoon timing of the statement is something we're not supposed to look into, but reveals that Alvarez and the university don't really care too much about this. Trust me, if Alvarez wanted to come out swinging, we'd know so.
It feels odd and a bit far-reaching to decry this Gee "controversy" the end of some Wisconsin beef entirely unrelated to Ohio State, but maybe that's how we should think about it. Bielema, rightfully so, has made every effort to put Wisconsin behind him -- that's what those "we disliked the SEC because of the success they had" comments from Tuesday were about, contradictory as they were. If he was still talking about Wisconsin, he'd have Arkansas fans all over him, and no coach in his right mind is going to begin the transition to a new job without some distancing from his previous one.
Alvarez slung a few barbs at Bielema after his abrupt departure last winter, saying Bielema "won with my plan" and all that. He also dropped that fantastic "I don't use search firms, search firms use me" quote to flex some muscles, getting that out of the way early on. Now, Alvarez is focused on the pending changes to Big Ten football, and more directly, his own program that's enduring a transition not felt since his own takeover in 1990.
Perhaps it's wishful thinking, but maybe we're reaching the end here. Summer workouts begin in less than two weeks, and while Bielema is probably still a must-follow on Twitter purely for entertainment purposes, we're nearly halfway through 2013. It's time to move on.