Former Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez has already found a new job.
Just 22 days after officially retiring from a position he had held full-time since 2005, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren announced that Alvarez had agreed to join the conference as its special advisor to football.
“I trust Barry Alvarez implicitly,” Warren said. “He means everything to this conference and we’re so grateful that he has agreed to join us at the conference office. He’ll be working on projects such as college football potential expansion, building relationships with our media partners, health and safety issues, scheduling issues and bowl partnerships.”
Alvarez was in Indianapolis for the announcement and sat down with The Zone for an interview to discuss the job, along with his thoughts on conference expansion, the first few weeks of name, image, likeness, expanding the College Football Playoff and what he expects from the 2021 Badgers.
(The interview will also be available as part of our Wisconsin football podcast (The Camp), which will come out Friday afternoon. Parts of the interview were edited for clarity)
Q: Can you tell us how the new job came about?
Alvarez: “Well, commissioner approached me a while back to gauge my interests maybe as as far as a consultant, or an advisor to, to him, the league liaison with coaches and athletic directors. I’ve been around a long time. I’ve been in this league since 1979 as an assistant at Iowa, so, I really love the game, I love the league. And I felt like I could bring something to the table and have some opinions that might be able to help having been in the coach’s shoes and the administrator’s shoes. It keeps me active, it keeps me involved in it, so it really excited me to have the opportunity.”
Q: Where is most of your focus going to be with the new job?
Alvarez: “My first thought was listen to the coaches, see what issues they have. Are there things that that we can improve upon, which I’m sure there are and then go from there. Be that liaison that to get that information back to the league and try to figure out some things that we can improve upon.”
Q: Commissioner Warren mentioned conference expansion is also going to be a part of it. What do you see there?
Alvarez: “Everybody kind of got ambushed with the the announcement about the Big 12 teams (Oklahoma and Texas), possibly wanting to look into (SEC). I thought the timing was very unique. When it was just the beginning, actually during, during media days. And so I think it caught a lot of people by surprise. It caught me by surprise. But it makes everybody talk about it and take a look and a deeper dive into it.”
Q: It’s all hypotheticals right now, but does the Big Ten have to now start talking about the potential for another round of expansion?
Alvarez: “I think you have to have some type of discussion. You don’t want to be caught cold. If things start moving. You have people in this league, a lot of people, try to get some antenna out there and find out what’s going on, what people hear, what’s actually happening.”
Q: There has been talk around four 16-team super conferences for a some time. If Texas and Oklahoma go to the SEC, that would be 16 teams. Is that where this is headed? Super conferences?
Alvarez: “I don’t know. I just as soon not even talk about it because I haven’t put a lot of thought into it.”
Q: How do you think the name, image, likeness aspect has gone these first few weeks?
Alvarez: “I see different things I try to keep up on, those things being announced. I think it’s obvious some are being more aggressive than others, whether it be individuals, whether it be schools. I see where some schools are trying to use that as an advantage, trying to get an edge as far as really trying to motivate their community to get involved in supporting their athletes. I love the fact that we’re helping athletes, we’re doing some things for athletes, it opens a door for them.
“Having a grandson playing, I love the attitude that he took in visiting with him about it. He’s got six months of college football left, he’s got one season left. He’s more concerned about playing than he is trying to get a T-shirt contract or starting his own his own brand or running around trying to get sponsorships. So, I appreciate that.
“It’s a coach’s job, it’s a coach’s responsibility and school’s responsibility to keep your players focused and keep priorities in order. And it’s playing first and not going out and trying to promote yourself.”
Q: So did you like Graham Mertz’s logo?
Alvarez: “I just saw that he has it. That’s fine. That’s his right. I just hope he completes a high percentage of passes. (laughing) That’s what I hope. I’m more concerned with that than his T-shirt logo.”
Q: Wisconsin has already announced that Camp Randall will be at full capacity this fall, but with the resurgence of COVID are you confident that that is going to be the case throughout the season?
Alvarez: “I’m hopeful. I’d like to say I’m confident, I’d like to say I’m optimistic. After going through last year, I’m just hopeful that it can happen. I’m excited. For our players, we’ve had two groups of players now that haven’t played in front of a full stadium, so it would be exciting for them. I know our fans are dying to get back in. Our ticket sales have been off the charts, our renewals. This was a month ago, but they were higher than they had been. Student tickets sold out in less than, I think, 20 minutes. There’s a lot of anticipation. I just hope that we can.”
Q: They are looking into expanding the College Football Playoff to 12 teams. You were on the selection committee when it was four. What do you think about expanding to 12?
Alvarez: “Initially, I thought four was the right number. Looking at the 12, looking at reasons why, I like the access. I like more people having access, more teams having access. I like the fact that the season isn’t over for somebody by the second week of the season. I like the fact that you can stay in this, a lot of people are still involved. And there’s more interest in college football over a long period of time, because a lot of people have lost two games and are still ranked in the top 12 in the country. So I think that it really could help college football.
“I am a little concerned about the number of games, but then I turn around and I see South Dakota State and someone else playing the same thing. And those guys were playing extremely hard. Coaches would have to make the adjustment on how they practice throughout the year. If you think you’ve got one of those teams that could could go and play 14, 15, 16 games, but my initial take on this is I like it.”
Q: If it gets to 12, will that be it? Or will it keep growing?
Alvarez: “Well, we started with two, went to four. Now you’re talking about 12. I think 12, I don’t know if you want to go much deeper than that. Now, I thought I heard one of the coaches say there aren’t 12 good enough to win the championship right now. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But I tell you what, I’d like to have some of these people have an opportunity to try.”
Q: I believe that was Clemson’s Dabo Sweeney.
Alvarez: “You have to understand you got guys like Dabo and (Alabama’s) Nick (Saban), those guys they are in every year, they don’t need to go to 12. So it’s a couple teams in the Big Ten, one team in the Pac-12, get some other people that get a chance to be in the game. But if you’re in it every year, why would you want to increase?”
Q: An expanded playoff would obviously help Wisconsin, right?
Alvarez: “We’ve been right there. We had Penn State down three touchdowns in the championship game (in 2016). I think we had a very good argument to go into being in the final four. I was on the selection committee then, so I was watching that game on TV when they were voting and stuff. We’ve been right there. Iowa has been right there. Michigan State has been there, so there are a lot of teams in our league that are ranked in the top 12 that would have that opportunity.”
Q: What do you think about the idea of having the first games of that expanded playoff be on campus?
Alvarez: “I really liked that. I think that’d be for the first time in history where a northern school would have some type of an advantage. I look at all these games. I remember back when Nebraska would go down to Miami and play in the Orange Bowl against Miami or against Florida or Florida State and the advantages that they had always. Basically playing with home field advantage. I had players — the Raiola’s (Dominic and Donovan) — they’re from Hawaii, their dad sent them to cold weather schools so they learned how to play in cold weather so they can play in the NFL. I liked that. I really liked that. And I think it guarantees a full and exciting stadium.”
Q: Looking at this year’s Wisconsin team…what do you see?
Alvarez: “I like our team. I think Paul (Chryst) likes our team. I think you get a couple veteran receivers back who really didn’t play last year because of injuries, and I think we’ll have depth in the offensive line. I always like to start with the offensive line. I think we’ve got some good young offensive linemen there. And I think Graham (Mertz) has a chance to be a great quarterback. Jimmy’s got a really good group back coming back on defense so I think we have a chance to be very good team. I think our schedule, maybe the best we’ve ever had. Our home schedule is off the charts and throw Notre Dame in there you open with Penn State at home man, it’s exciting going in.”