Minnesota's Suspicious “Border Battle” Victory

Jeff RobbinsContributor IMay 17, 2010

As someone who has spent almost exactly half of his life living in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” and half of his life living in “America’s Dairyland,” I know a thing or two about the Wisconsin-Minnesota “border battle.”

It’s not about women’s soccer.

However, a Monday, May 17, 2010 press release found right on the front page of uwbadgers.com has Wisconsin conceding defeat in the 2009-2010 Minnesota-Wisconsin Border Battle because of Goldy Gopher’s past-season victories over Bucky Badger in sports such as women’s soccer, women’s cross country, softball and track and field.

I don’t wish to besmirch the importance of those athletic programs. On the contrary, I consider a well-rounded athletic department inclusive of as many men’s and women’s programs as possible to be vital to a major university’s DNA.

But let’s be realistic: There are sports that sell tens of thousands of tickets; that bring in tons of revenue through advertising, licensing, broadcasting, and sponsorships; that fuel radio and TV sports talk shows and blogs, and that inspire fans to paint their bodies their school colors, to get tattoos of their school’s logo, and to travel cross-country to follow.

Those sports are not track and field and diving.

Those sports are football, football, football, basketball, and hockey. (Did I mention football?)

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So with that in mind, saying that Minnesota won last year’s “Border Battle” over Wisconsin is a bit like saying that the Cleveland Cavaliers were the best team in the NBA this season. Yes, they won the most games, but not the ones that counted the most.

To be fair, unlike the BCS rankings, the “Border Battle” calculations are easy to interpret. According to the release, 40 points are at stake in each of 22 sports for a possible total of 880 points.

In a sport where the Badgers and Gophers compete head-to-head (i.e., football), the 40 points goes to the winner of the game. If the teams play multiple games (i.e., men’s hockey), the possible points are divided by the number of times they play.

So, for example, the Badgers received 40 points for football based on their 31-28 victory on October 3. But both the Badgers and the Gophers received 20 points for men’s hockey based upon the 2-2 split for the four games played throughout the season.

After points were awarded in all 22 sports, the Gophers won the “Border Battle” easily by a final tally of 550-330.

But it’s an empty victory for Goldy Gopher. Because even though Minnesota may have won the “Border Battle,” Wisconsin clearly won the “Border War.”

Men’s basketball is a perfect illustration of this. During the 2009-2010 season, Bo Ryan and Tubby Smith went head-to-head only once, in Minneapolis on February 18. The Badgers played one of their worst regular season games that night, losing to Minnesota 68-52.

For that victory, the Gophers were awarded 40 points and the Badgers zero. But this simple calculation misses the bigger picture.

The Badgers’ men’s basketball team finished the year 24-9, were awarded a #4 seed in the NCAA tournament and advanced (albeit just barely) to the tournament’s second round.

The Gophers’ men’s basketball team, meanwhile, finished the year 21-14, were a bubble team that snuck into the NCAA tournament with an #11 seed and lost by double digits in the tournament’s first round.

Clearly, the Badgers’ men’s hoops team had the better season than Minnesota, yet the “Border Battle” scorecard reflects the exact opposite.

Or look at men’s hockey. I already stated that both teams shared 20 points in that sport, yet Mike Eaves' team advanced all the way to the NCAA championship game, whereas the Gophers finished the year with a sub-.500 record and completely out of the running for an NCAA tournament bid.

Yet the “Border Battle” total implies that the programs had an equally successful year.

The Minnesota-Wisconsin rivalry is a storied, intense, often bitterly angry one that is not limited to collegiate sports. Certainly many Packers fans consider any season in which Green Bay sweeps the Vikings a success (and vice versa) no matter what the outcome of the other 14 games on the schedule.

Given the dominating success that Wisconsin enjoyed over Minnesota in the key sports of football, men’s basketball, and men’s football (as well as women’s basketball), it’s hard to stomach the fact that the 2009-2010 Border Battle Trophy will be displayed in the Twin Cities.

Like Sandra’s dubious Survivor win, Minnesota emerging victorious in the Border Battle is clearly a hollow victory.