MADISON, Wis. - The University of Wisconsin, with its radical chic and academic sobriety, has awakened this fall to a real football team, to six straight victories, to Top 25 rankings and to scenes from the 1950s. It is all a suspicious gift from the New York area.
The victories took three years of effective scheming. The former university chancellor, Donna Shalala, wanted higher-visibility glamour sports, better publicity and greater alumni contributions.
Shalala, now a member of President Clinton's Cabinet as secretary of Health and Human Services, dumped baseball and gymnastics in 1990. She hired a new athletic director, Pat Richter.
Richter hired a new football coach from Notre Dame, Barry Alvarez, who hired a crack staff of assistants from Iowa.
The recruiters hit the New York metro area hard, as they always had for the Hawkeyes. They diverted the pipeline, wounding Iowa Coach Hayden Fry. They brought back 17 Badger blue-chippers from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. They lured a 23-year-old sophomore quarterback, Darrell Bevell, from Northern Arizona and his Mormon mission in un-exotic Cleveland.
The victories arrived ahead of schedule, along with the crowds of 78,000 at Camp Randall Stadium. The athletic department wiped out a $2.2 million debt.
Nobody outside Wisconsin seemed to remember that the Badgers had been in the Rose Bowl in 1963 or even were in the Big Ten.
"I never heard of Wisconsin," said Yusef Burgess, a senior linebacker from the Bronx and DeWitt Clinton High School. "We only knew about those schools you saw on TV."
The players came anyway, because assistant coach Bernie Wyatt developed a network of coaching contacts in the East, from his five years as high-school coach at Lindenhurst, N.Y., and his 16 seasons of recruiting for Iowa.
"I didn't want to be just another number with some big football school," said Lee DeRamus, a wide receiver from Sicklerville, N.J.
Wyatt told DeRamus, all of them, that they could be famous, that they could start a tradition at Wisconsin. He beat Penn State to one or two great prospects, including freshman quarterback Jeff Forde of Staten Island's Curtis High School.
Season-ticket sales have increased from 26,000 to 41,000.
The money is pouring in. Richter admitted that the school had liberalized its difficult admissions policy a bit, but said it would get tougher again as the athletic programs took hold.
Cynics will watch Scholastic Achievement Test scores closely.
"Athletics are just one part of a large problem," said a math professor, Richard Askey, who lives close to the stadium. "It's just another diversion from academics."
Askey might as well start planning this calculus lecture for January: the evils of bowl games.