The start of tomorrow’s Badger games will mark the end of a 15-year quest to bring college hoops to Milwaukee’s ballpark.
This fall, American Family Field will transform from a baseball stadium to a basketball arena. On November 11th, the Wisconsin’s men and women’s basketball teams will tip off inside the Brewers’ home against Stanford and Kansas State, respectively, for the first-ever Brew City Battle. This was all Greg Gard’s idea– one that was easier dreamed than done.
“We love playing in the Kohl Center,” Gard, the head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team, explained in an interview with Milwaukee Magazine. “Our fans are great. But to do something like this in a unique setting and have the first-ever basketball game at American Family Field, these are the types of experiences we want for our players.”
“We’ve played at other neutral sites, but to be able to do one in your own state is really a one-of-a-kind opportunity,” he continued. “They’re excited, but wait until they see it when we have our shoot-around before we play. When they get there and see it set up, that’s when it’s going to hit them.”
The Roadblocks Along the Way
Gard has been on Wisconsin’s coaching staff since 2001, and initially came up with the idea while working as an assistant under former men’s basketball coach Bo Ryan.
One of the biggest challenges was finding an opponent who would agree to an early-season date when the temperature inside American Family Field—with its retractable roof closed, adding some climate control—would be comfortable for players and fans.
“We went down the road with a lot of schools, but Stanford was one that when it came time to put the details together worked out the best,” Gard said. “Stanford is a nationally-recognized opponent and similar in terms of being a high-academic school like Wisconsin. We’ll return a game to the San Francisco area next year.”
Another challenge was deciding the format. Over the drawn-out talks of the past 15 years, a variety of doubleheader options were discussed.
“We talked about bringing in three other men’s teams and we talked about a doubleheader where we would do hockey on one side of the field and basketball on the other. Everything was thrown on the table,” Gard said.
What to Expect Tomorrow
Gard anticipates tomorrow’s experience will rival a game deep in March Madness.
“We’ve been in several NCAA regional finals. It’s going to have that atmosphere of playing in a big space,” Gard explained.
The court will be positioned across the stadium’s infield [pictured below], with center court near the pitcher’s mound. Temporary seats will be installed just beyond second base, along with additional field-level seating around the court. Nearly all the existing seating areas inside American Family Field will also be available.
Looking Towards the Future
Gard doesn’t want this to be a one-off and is hoping to hold similar events at American Family Field every three to four years.
“It’s something we are hoping is really positive,” he mused. “Hopefully we can use this year as a template to talk with other schools.”
“But we have to have this first one go really well to start,” he added.
Want to Go?
Game times are 3:30 for the Badger women and 6:30 for the men. The event is being sold as one session with a ticket granting access to both games. Limited seats are still available. Tickets can be purchased as brewers.com/basketball.