Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Border Battle

For the past few months or so, I've been trying to start the #borderbattle movement.

The Border Battle is my fun attempt to give MSU-Wisconsin rivalry a nickname, although it has extended to any sports contest between teams from Michigan and Wisconsin (Lions-Packers, Pistons-Bucks, etc.). The joke is that the states share a border in Michigan's Upper Peninsula that few (lower peninsula folks) don't think about. Kansas and Missouri have had the Border War, which dates back to the 1890s. Michigan's border with Wisconsin is longer than those with Ohio or Indiana

But other than the Packers, there haven't really been any Wisconsin teams hated by fans in Michigan until recently. The main fights of the border battle have come between the Michigan State Spartans and the University of Wisconsin Badgers. While Bret Bielema has raised the level on the gridiron between the teams, this hatred starts with Bo Ryan and the basketball rivalry. And the Border Battle doesn't mean more to anyone than proud UP-native Tom Izzo.

Here is a great breakdown of the Izzo-Ryan bad blood. From "I'll remember that"in 2003, to Drew Neitzel taking down No. 1 in 2007, to the two clocks this season, this rivalry really has been one of the most competitive in college basketball over the last decade. It also has two of the most-animated coaches. Both Izzo and Ryan make plenty of funny faces. But that's why they're two of the best.


For all the Final Fours and NCAA Tournament runs (something Ryan doesn't have), the fact that Izzo has a 7-13 record against Ryan is something that always eats at him. It's the one Big Ten team that has had Izzo's number, so to speak. Ryan took over in Madison in 2001 after MSU's three straight Final Fours and won the first six games against the Spartans. Since then, the teams are even against each other, with plenty of heartbreaking losses on both sides. Along the way, every game has been a battle.

It took just about everything for the Spartans to win at the Kohl Center in January — MSU's first in Madison since 2001. Now the Badgers are looking to break a six-game losing streak at Breslin Center that dates back to 2004. Wisconsin's last win in East Lansing was the infamous banner game, where MSU had a Big Ten championship banner waiting to be unfurled in the rafters. But the Badgers won in overtime, and MSU didn't unravel a Big Ten championship banner for another five years.

The series dates back to 1922, and MSU leads the all-time series 70-60, with a 44-14 record in East Lansing.

Michigan is MSU's biggest rival. Minnesota is Wisconsin's biggest rival. But in the world of college basketball, MSU and Wisconsin fans hate each other more than any other. Both fanbases hate the other coach more than any other. Just take a look at the poll on the right side of this page. In Wisconsin, Izzo is the "midget." In East Lansing, Ryan is the "rat."

The MSU/U-M rivalry is getting there, but the MSU/Wisconsin rivalry has been there for a decade. And now the football rivalry has added fuel to the fire. Jim over at A Beautiful Day For Football has a personal vendetta against Bielema, and some creative Haikus.

While U-M/Ohio State gets the national attention, the MSU/Wisconsin football rivalry has been the Big Ten's best over the last few years. Just like basketball, the home team has dominated this series. The basketball teams mirror each other (focusing on rebounding and defense), and so do the football teams (focusing on the running game and defense) . It's no wonder the rivalry in both sports is so competitive.

As always, this basketball game will have major implications in the Big Ten standings. MSU and Ohio State sit one game up on U-M and Wisconsin in the loss column. This game is always a battle of toughness, and Thursday will be no different.

But we now know that violence is out of the question.


  1. "The joke is that the states do share a border in Michigan's Upper Peninsula that few (lower peninsula folks) don't think about."

    Uhh... what?

  2. We're 2-1 on the year in football and basketball. Let's make it 3-1 tomorrow. I only have marginally more hatred for the Wolverines.