MADISON, Wis. Wisconsin's football program traditionally has spent far more time recruiting players east of the state than to the west. For that reason alone, Badgers coach Bret Bielema greeted news of the Big Ten's expansion to the East Coast with open arms on Monday.
Maryland was officially announced as the 13th program to join the Big Ten, and Rutgers is expected to follow suit as early as Tuesday. When those moves come to fruition, Bielema expects Wisconsin to increase its footing in recruiting out east.
"I think there's a tremendous value in the east coast markets," he said during his weekly press conference. "I understand television and all that stuff; it's way beyond what a head coach thinks about.
"I think that on the east coast when we are recruiting out there, probably more so Rutgers than Maryland right now, at least football-wise, we do go against Rutgers quite a bit in recruiting."
Maryland, which must pay a 50 million exit fee to leave the Atlantic Coast Conference, will join the Big Ten on July 1, 2014 for the 2014-15 season. Rutgers would have to pay 10 million and wait 27 months as part of an agreement to leave the Big East. That means Rutgers may have to wait until the 2015-16 season to join the Big Ten.
Coincidentally, Wisconsin and Maryland agreed last month to a home-and-home football series in 2020 and 2021. Now, that agreement likely will be wiped out because both teams are in the same conference.
"The reason we pursued a game with Maryland is because it was an attractive offer for us in recruiting, to be quite honest," Bielema said. "Right now, our only true east coast game is Penn State. Obviously, that would give us two more opportunities to sell it."
When Nebraska joined the Big Ten at the start of the 2011 season, it gave the conference 12 schools and was thought to be the end of Big Ten expansion. Divisions were then realigned into the Leaders and Legends, which each featured six teams.
With the news of Maryland and possibly Rutgers moving to the Big Ten, the divisions would have to be changed again. Maryland and Rutgers will reportedly join Wisconsin in the Leaders Division, along with Penn State, Ohio State, Purdue and Indiana. Illinois would then reportedly shift over to the Legends Division and join Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa and Minnesota.
"I'm excited every time the commissioner and athletic directors have come up with a plan," Bielema said. "It's been very, very positive, so I'm assuming this will be as well."
Fatigue emerges: Bielema acknowledged the grind of a 12-game regular season had begun to take its toll on Wisconsin's players. As a result, he may scale back time on the practice field this week in the lead-up to Wisconsin's regular-season finale against Penn State.
Last week, Wisconsin lost its second straight home game in overtime, 21-14, against Ohio State.
"I think the mental fatigue as well as the physical fatigue is real," Bielema said. "So I think as a head coach, I've got to be really smart about what we ask guys to do this week, especially with the Thanksgiving week and all the scheduling things that brings."
Bielema said there would be less emphasis on practicing the first-team offense against the first-team defense at this point and more focus on staying healthy.
Badgers linebacker Chris Borland, who missed last week's game against Ohio State with a hamstring injury, is expected to be back. Offensive lineman Rob Havenstein could return to the team in the middle of the week. He suffered a mild MCL sprain against Ohio State.
"We've just got to get ourselves ready to play Penn State," Bielema said, "get ourselves into a position on Saturday to be at full strength."
Phillips still developing: Fifth-year senior Curt Phillips has been in Wisconsin's program since 2008, but he is still learning to play the quarterback position at game speed, Bielema said.
Phillips made just his second career start against Ohio State last week and finished 14 of 25 for 154 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Two weeks ago against Indiana, he made his first throws in a game since 2009.
"He's going through the things that a first-year quarterback does," Bielema said. "I think he has some advantages because he is a fifth-year senior, but it's still what you go through as a first-year starter.
"There's just certain things, whether it be varying the snap count, taking a call from the sideline, an adjustment at the line of scrimmage, seeing a receiver open and having the confidence to actually throw it. So yeah, I think there are those things, and Curt would admittedly say so."
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