Montee Ball

Wisconsin football player Montee Ball listens to a question during a press conference on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012.

CRAIG SCHREINER - State Journal

If all of this is a sign of things to come in Montee Ball’s pursuit of the Heisman Trophy, then shut down the hype machine and shutter the campaign headquarters right now.

In the seven months since he announced he was returning for his senior season with the University of Wisconsin football team instead of declaring for the NFL — a revelation as welcome as it was unexpected — Ball has lived a star-crossed existence that is nothing short of jarring.

He’s been handcuffed, then beaten in separate campus-area incidents.

He’s been taken to jail and the hospital.

He’s been ticketed for trespassing and treated for a concussion.

He’s been humbling fodder for national all-sports channels and celebrity gossip websites alike.

If all of this is a karmic heads-up on how the season is going to play out for Ball, then he won’t return to New York City as a top Heisman vote-getter, he won’t have the same incredible impact he had on the Badgers last year when he rushed for 1,923 yards and tied an NCAA record with 39 touchdowns, nor will he upgrade his NFL draft stock as he intended.

Since the end of spring practice in late April, Ball has been in the wrong place at the wrong time on three occasions, leaving us to choose between a couple of basic narratives about the engaging, likable 21-year-old.

Either his luck stinks like a leaky Honey Wagon or his judgment has a large blind spot.

Ball acknowledged that he made a poor decision by going to the infamous Mifflin Street Block Party on May 5. More than 400 people were arrested in the annual rite of spring for UW students, yet the headliner was Ball, who was cited for trespassing and fined $429.

Outside of a couple defensive posts on his Twitter feed, we haven’t heard from Ball about what happened July 27. Hours after returning from Chicago, where he represented the Badgers at the Big Ten Conference Media Days event, Madison police say he attended a party with fellow students and teammates in which a fight broke out.

Ball took to his Twitter account to say a report by TMZ, the tawdry outlet that specializes in celebrity prattle, that he was involved in the fight was “totally false.”

But that accusation won’t die given what happened on Aug. 1. Ball left a campus watering hole with two friends around 2:15 a.m. when he was attacked by five men in what police say may have been a retaliatory strike. Ball suffered a concussion and facial injuries and will be held out of preseason drills, which began Monday, for at least a week.

UW coach Bret Bielema has heard Ball’s version of what happened at the party and, citing a strong relationship with him and his family, said he believes his marquee player’s claim that he wasn’t involved in the fight. No surprise there.

When asked Monday if Ball has been simply luckless in these matters or if he’s a victim of his own poor judgment, Bielema said a big piece of the equation is the attention Ball gets in public and the animosity it can trigger in the daylight of Mifflin Street or the darkness of the campus bar scene as last call draws near.

“That’s part of what he probably realizes now as much as he tried to realize it before … and how much potential hate can be driven toward him in a short amount of time by so many people,” Bielema said.

Still, Ball has given us cause to wonder about his priorities and some straight answers are needed as soon as possible. If he can comment on Twitter, surely he can do the same in person.

We need to know if the slogan for his Heisman campaign — “The Fall Belongs to Ball” — is an advertisement for greatness or an epitaph.

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