Inside Coach Greg Gard’s Quest to Bring Badgers Hoops to the Brewers Stadium

After years of effort, Wisconsin’s basketball teams will tip off a doubleheader at American Family Field on Nov. 11.

When players take the court in American Family Field next month for the Brew City Battle, it will mark the culmination of a tireless effort by Wisconsin Badgers men’s head basketball coach Greg Gard to bring basketball to the Milwaukee Brewers’ stadium.

“It’s been quite a while in the making. I’ve been in conversations about this for close to 15 years,” Gard said in an interview with Milwaukee Magazine. “The main issue has always been trying to line up a date that worked for everyone and make it all come together. Talks would get hot at times and then would die off. It always seemed that there was a roadblock, but it’s awesome now to have this event in place.”

Gard’s hoops dream will finally become reality on Nov. 11 when the Badgers take on the Stanford Cardinal –the first college basketball event in American Family Field’s 21-year history.

In addition to the men’s game, the event also features the Badgers women taking on the Kansas State Wildcats. The doubleheader will add a signature event to the opening week of the 2022-23 college basketball season.

Brew City Battle Rendering; Photo courtesy of UW Athletics

 

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Gard’s quest to have the Badgers play a game at the Brewers’ ballpark began while he served as an assistant coach with the program. Gard has been on Wisconsin’s coaching staff since 2001 and has led the program since first taking over as interim head coach early in the 2015-16 season following Bo Ryan’s retirement.

One of the roadblocks has been finding an opponent who would agree to play an early-season date when the temperature inside American Family Field, with the retractable roof closed and offering a level of climate control, would be comfortable for players and fans.

“It really was just trying to find a school that would play the game and had that week open,” Gard said. “We wanted to do it early in the season to control the temperature to some degree, which you can do to an extent, but not if it’s 10 degrees outside.”

Talks heated up with Stanford, a member of the Pac-12 Conference whose campus is near Palo Alto, California, and the deal came to fruition.

“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 or in two years.”

Wisconsin Badgers Head Coach Greg Gard talks to his team during an NCAA college men’s basketball game against the Purdue Boilermakers, Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Madison, Wis. The Badgers won 70-67 and clinched at least a share of the Big Ten Title. (Photo by David Stluka/UW Athletic Communications)

Playing in a unique venue has considerable appeal for the players, Gard said.

“We love playing in the Kohl Center. 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. They are excited, but wait until they see it when we have our shootaround before we play on Nov. 11. When they get in there and see it set up, that’s when it’s going to hit them.”

Gard is also hoping that Badgers’ fans will also embrace the opportunity.

“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,” Gard said. “You’re always looking for ways to move the needle in terms of your schedule and the experiences you are creating for our athletes and fans.”

The Wisconsin women’s basketball team’s matchup against Kansas State, a Big 12 Conference member, brings added excitement to the event, Gard said.

Over the drawn-out talks of the past 15 years, a variety of doubleheader options were discussed, Gard said.

“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,” he said. “Everything was thrown on the table. This worked out where the women were able to line up and play Kansas State. We talked about having the same opponent, but we ended up having to split it up with Stanford and Kansas State.”

Gard expects the experience to rival a game deep in a March Madness run. “We’ve been in several NCAA regional finals. It’s going to have that atmosphere, playing in a big space,” Gard said.

The court will be positioned across the stadium’s infield, with center court near the pitcher’s mound. Temporary seating will be installed just beyond second base, along with additional field-level seating around the court. In addition, nearly all the existing seating areas of American Family Field will be available.

Gard doesn’t want this to be a one-and-done deal 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 and hopefully we can use this year as a template to talk with other schools and make this something that can happen regularly,” Gard said. “We have plans to continue to grow this as we go forward, but we have to have this first one go really well to start.”

But don’t expect Wisconsin and in-state rival Marquette to square off at American Family Field, due in part to contractual obligations the Marquette men’s basketball program has with Fiserv Forum, where it plays its home games. “Both of us probably want to keep this as a home game, us in Madison and them at Fiserv Forum,” Gard said. “So, that’s something that probably would be a roadblock down the road.”

The Brew City Battle will mark the first time in nearly seven years since a college basketball game was last staged in a baseball-only park. That event, called the “Bill Walton Basketball Festival,” was a multi-day affair that culminated with a featured matchup between San Diego State and the University of San Diego at open-air Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres.

“It’s going to be an awesome experience,” Gard said. “The tailgating, the ballpark experience. You’ll get a lot of entertainment value coming in one shot that night.” Tickets for the Aurora Health Care Brew City Battle can be purchased at brewers.com/basketball. The event is being sold as one session, with a ticket granting access to both the men’s and women’s games. Game times are 3:30 p.m. for the women’s game and 6:30 p.m. for the men’s game.

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.