I have no doubt that in the coming days there will be significant backlash -- there's already been some -- against University of Minnesota football coach Tim Brewster, who had the temerity to complain about Wisconsin running up the score in the Badgers' 41-23 Big Ten victory at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.
Here's what I say: Bravo, Tim Brewster.
Granted, the man did not speak from a position of strength. His team is 1-5. It was never in Saturday's game against a good but not great Wisconsin team. The Gophers have lost their last seven to the Badgers in a border rivalry that awards Paul Bunyan's axe to the victor. And speaking of the ax, Brewster's head is perched a millimeter from the chopping block.
So if you say that the coach spoke partly out of frustration, I would agree with you.
That doesn't mean he was wrong.
When Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema elected to go for a two-point conversion (it failed) while holding a 41-16 lead with 4:26 remaining in Saturday's game, he broke an unwritten rule of sportsmanship. You don't run it up. You don't rub it in. You don't kick somebody who's down. You don't humiliate an opponent who is beaten.
Perhaps you remember unwritten rules. They're the ones that everyone pays lip service to but few follow anymore. They're all but gone, lost to the greater gods of looking good and getting yourself in SportsCenter. Hold a one-man I-am-the-world parade after making a tackle. Grab your jersey and show it to the crowd after dunking on someone. Stand at home plate and admire your shot to left-center, then take five minutes to complete your home run trot. It's all part of it.
As for Bielema, he said he went for two because that's what the fourth-quarter conversion chart tells him to do: Up by 25, go for two. It's a math thing. The sad thing is, I have no doubt that Bielema is telling the truth. The sheet is what matters. There is no context, not even a thought about the unwritten rules, which I learned, thanks to my father, at about the same time I learned the written ones.
Brewster has already been lambasted in the Minnesota edition of SBNation by Bryan Reynolds, whose rationale included this sentence: "The more points a team scores, the better chance they have of making a bowl game. I could be wrong on that but ..." Well, whatta you know? You are wrong. (But, hey, why check a fact, right?) Reynolds also wrote the obligatory, "Grow up coach. This isn't middle school."
But, see, middle school isn't middle school anymore either. From what I've seen, unwritten rules have disappeared there, too, and college football bears major responsibility for that. For years, scheduling inferior opponents and running up the score was in fact the way to enhance your poll position (an argument for a playoff system if there ever was one), thereby legitimizing the practice of humiliating your opponent.
I hear a lot from college coaches this time of year. They are vested with the power of emperors, holding sway not just over their program but over the entire campus community, talking stoutly of character and discipline and steadfastness and all those other intangibles. It would be nice if one of them, over the next week, stepped up and said: "You know, Tim Brewster had a point." But I'm not holding my breath -- most of them carry around the same conversion sheet that Bret Bielema had in his pocket on Saturday.