College Football Used To Be Much Stranger: Wisconsin vs. Michigan State... In Japan

For the price of some airplane tickets and $800,000 to prime the athletic department pumps at Wisconsin and Michigan State, Japan and Coca-Cola have imported the game that will determine UCLA's opponent in the Rose Bowl.

If Wisconsin beats the Spartans in the 19th Coca-Cola Bowl on Sunday in Tokyo--Saturday night, at 8 PST, in the United States--the Badgers will play in Pasadena for the first time since Jan. 1, 1963. If Michigan State wins, Ohio State is the Big Ten champion and UCLA's opponent on Jan. 1. [snip]

Elsewhere in Madison, people sigh at the irony of Camp Randall Stadium sitting idle while the biggest "home" game in 31 years is played 8,000 miles away.

I came across this story while doing some research for another post; in 1993, Michigan State played Wisconsin in the final Big Ten game of the year -- in the Coca Cola Classic, held in Japan.  It turned out to be something more than just some random Big Ten game, too -- Wisconsin needed to win the game to lock up a share of the Big Ten title and a berth in the Rose Bowl.  (They did.)  Granted, that's not something either team (or the sponsors who ponied up $800K -- or $1.2M in 2011 dollars -- to move the game to Japan) could have foreseen when they agreed to the game four years earlier, but still: it seems crazy that this really happened. 

Or maybe not.  Really, you could also argue that this is just a few degrees away from the increasingly common practice of setting up cash-grab neutral site games (like the season-opening Chic-Fil-A games we've had over the past few years, or the upcoming Alabama-Michigan slobberknocker at JerryWorld, or even the long history of Kickoff Classics at neutral sites).  Hell, even the international nature of the game isn't wholly unique; Notre Dame and Navy are playing in Ireland next year.  The fact that it was a conference game renders it a bit stranger than those -- but we also live in a world where Indiana happily sold off a home game to FedEx Field for a neutral site game that was 90% Penn State fans.  Perhaps Michigan State and Wisconsin were simply well ahead of their time.

If nothing else, the tailgating had to be fantastic.  Sake and sushi meets beer and brats! 乱れ飛べ!, indeed. (TFJ to stanzi's ex-girlfriend for the translation help.)

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