Mike McGinnis/Getty Images
Night games at Camp Randall Stadium usually are special.

Night game TV policy unfair to fans, best night games at Camp Randall, and more

Zach Heilprin

We hope you’ll start your day with us here at Landof10.com as we work to prepare you for everything you need to know – Monday through Friday – around the world of Wisconsin sports. Whether it’s football, basketball, hockey or just a wild story we hope you’ll find interesting, we’re here to share it all with you.

Today is Friday, May 26, and this is what’s for breakfast.

Night game uncertainty

Wisconsin knows it’ll play at least one football game at night during the 2017 season. The Badgers found that out Thursday when times and TV lineups were announced for the opening week of the season.

The Badgers kick off the season by hosting Utah State at 8 p.m. CT on Friday, Sept. 1.

What Wisconsin coaches and administrators don’t know is the number of night games the school will host this season. Under the new TV deal with FOX Sports/FS1 and ESPN, prime-time games can be scheduled as late as 12 days before a game, essentially creating an NFL-like “flex” schedule scenario.

Like the Big Ten’s controversial decision to schedule games on Friday nights despite objections from high school organizations, the late notice will be a slap in the face to loyal fans who devote time and money on a weekly basis to cheer for their teams.

In Wisconsin, the two biggest planning days of the year are when the Green Bay Packers schedule is released and when times for Wisconsin night games are announced. So much of what happens during the fall in the state revolves around where and when those two teams play. From birthday parties and family reunions to the booking of hotel rooms and purchasing of tickets — it all relies on knowing those game details.

Now Badgers fans won’t have that information in advance, and we all know why — money and TV ratings. The goal to get the best matchups in prime-time slots is more important than anything else for the networks, your planning be damned.

Will the new rules impact Wisconsin this season? Possibly. There are two attractive games on the home schedule — Iowa on Nov. 11 and Michigan on Nov. 18.

If the Hawkeyes and Badgers are in the thick of Big Ten West race, they could end up in the late viewing window, although Ohio State and Michigan State also play that day.

As for the visit from the Wolverines, the last two weeks of the conference season have largely been void of night games, but if the two schools are pushing for a spot in the College Football Playoff, it’s not out of the question that the networks would want that game in front of the biggest audience possible.

At some point this scheduling policy will come into direct conflict with Wisconsin’s focus on making the game-day environment more attractive for fans, something needed now more than ever as more and more people choose to enjoy the comforts of home while watching the games.

Top night games

A look back at the best night games at Camp Randall Stadium:

1) No. 18 Wisconsin 31, No. 1 Ohio State 18 (2010)

The Badgers, boosted by a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by David Gilreath to start the game, took down top-ranked Ohio State in front a raucous Camp Randall crowd. John Clay ran for 104 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Buckeyes’ only regular-season loss of the season.

The night also turned into a coming-out party for defensive end J.J. Watt, who finished with a pair of sacks and was a nuisance to Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

2) Wisconsin 23, No. 14 Michigan 20 (2005)

John Stocco was not considered a mobile quarterback, so no one could have predicted the Badgers calling a draw play with less than 30 seconds left and Wisconsin trailing by 4 at Michigan’s 4-yard line. However, that’s exactly what they did, and Stocco found the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. Junior running back Brian Calhoun was the workhorse, accounting for 214 of Wisconsin’s 287 total yards.

3) No. 22 Wisconsin 17, No. 3 Ohio State 10 (2003)

The Buckeyes came to Madison with a 19-game winning streak and were the reigning national champions with a propensity for finding ways to win close games. It looked like they were about to do it again when they tied the game at 10-10 with 6:13 to play in the fourth quarter. But the Badgers had an answer thanks to backup quarterback Matt Schabert, who caught Ohio State off guard with a play-action bomb to Lee Evans for a 79-yard touchdown. It was Evans’ only catch of the game, but the play remains among the most adored in program history.

4) No. 12 Wisconsin 31, Purdue 24 (1998)

In a back-and-forth affair, Wisconsin came out on top despite Purdue quarterback Drew Brees throwing for 494 yards and setting an NCAA record for attempts (83) in one game. But it was one of his misfires that turned the game in the Badgers’ favor, as cornerback Jamar Fletcher stepped in front of a pass in the third quarter and returned it for a touchdown.

The game served as a historic night in stadium history, as it was the first time House of Pain’s Jump Around was played between the third and fourth quarters. That tradition now is considered among the best in college football.

5) No. 7 Wisconsin 48, No. 8 Nebraska 17 (2011)

The Badgers welcomed Nebraska to the Big Ten in a rude manner, scoring 28 unanswered points to blow open the game. Running back Montee Ball ran for 151 yards and 4 touchdowns, while quarterback Russell Wilson threw for 255 yards and two scores. He added another on the ground. The game wasn’t close, but the environment inside the stadium that night made it worthy of a spot on this list.

Prison time

Michael Bennett runs for a TD in the 2000 Sun Bowl. (Harry How/ALLSPORT)

In the same week that former Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Brent Moss was sentenced to a year in prison, another former Wisconsin running back learned how long he will be behind bars. Michael Bennett, whose 1,681 yards rushing in 2000 are the sixth-most in school history, was sentenced to five years in prison on Wednesday after pleading no contest to burglary and identity theft charges in California.

Moss and Bennett aren’t alone when it comes to former Wisconsin running backs having run-ins with the law. All-Big Ten rushers P.J. Hill, Montee Ball and Corey Clement each had issues of varying degrees away from the field.

That’s not to say they are all bad people, but it is eye-opening when you consider that five of the 13 Wisconsin players who have rushed for at least 1,000 yards since 1993 have spent some time dealing with law enforcement.

Catching up