Tonight, I was going to make a post about the status of post players in the Horizon League; specifically, my top 5 “dominating post players” to stir up the discussion among our wildly growing fan base of PantherU (over 1,000 unique readers each of the last three days? THANK YOU FOR THE SUPPORT!)
However, while I was off working for the almighty Walgreens, I missed a major piece of news: the UWM Student Association was condemning the Milwaukee Athletics department, another entity at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, for taking men’s basketball on a trip to Italy this summer, a trip that will cost roughly $160,000.
My first reaction, god’s honest truth, was laughter. These guys? The Student Association is getting critical of someone else’s spending? The second reaction, of course, was disappointment. Travis Romero-Boeck and his fellow senators took a big step toward making the athletic department what it needs to be at UWM: respected and recognized for its true value to the university.
Today, Travis took a big step back. I’ll be the first to admit that Milwaukee Athletics needs to tone down its spending; the budget deficit grows every year, mainly because of the lease with the Wisconsin Center District for men’s basketball to play at the U.S. Cellular Arena. However, Romero-Boeck and the SA are picking the wrong fight, at the wrong time, and they are being awfully confrontational about it.
For one, it’s not the most expensive project currently being undertaken by the department. If you sidle on over to Engelmann Field, you’ll notice it’s a big pile of dirt right now. Why is that? Because the department is spending a boatload of cash to fit Engelmann with FieldTurf, the revolutionary playing surface that will reduce injuries, allow constant play, and drop grounds keeping costs to zero. So, why is the Student Association not attacking this project? Well, Michael Moynihan and the women’s soccer staff, along with help from the former men’s staff and others, raised all the money needed to build the new soccer field at Engelmann. The entire project is funded by private donations. The SA, instead, is going over the next biggest expense, the Italy trip. A trip that another university took last year, and by the end result of their season, seemed to work out for them.
Except here’s the catch: Rob Jeter and the men’s basketball staff, on their own, raised every single dollar for this trip. Not a single dollar is coming out of the men’s basketball and Athletics budget, or student money, or state tax dollars. This is a trip paid entirely by private donors who wanted to see men’s basketball players, many of whom come from modest economic backgrounds, obtain the learning experience of the trip, the playing experience against professional teams, and the social bonding with each other and the coaching staff. Who is Travis, or anyone else, to tell David Nicholas that he can’t spend his own money on this trip? Or Harris Turer? Or any one of the donors who donated the six figures needed for the trip?
The experience on the court is obvious; ten more days of practice with the coaches than teams that don’t, and life experiences that many players on the team would otherwise be unable to achieve. Don’t believe me? Ask someone who is benefiting from this trip.
“Well, I guess to a lot of people this trip seems like a ‘vacation,’ but in fact we have been working harder than any summer I’ve been on campus to tune up for Italy. We will be that much more ready for the real deal once November rolls around,” said redshirt sophomore Ryan Haggerty. “It’s an opportunity for a lot of us to travel outside of the country who otherwise wouldn’t, and learn a lot about about other cultures as well as tune up our skills on the court.”
Haggerty, who is a preferred walk-on (which means he will receive one year of scholarship over his career), wants the UWM community to back the team in this trip. “I sometimes feel like people forget we are going to be over there representing not only the US, but also the Horizon League and most importantly UWM.”
It goes beyond just representing the university in Italy. “The basketball team really wants to be an extension of the university and not a separate entity. We want the school to support us and we want to support the school,” Haggerty said in closing.
In the press release, the SA media relations person wrote that, “The Student Association has likened the trip to the extravagances of General Motors and Chrysler when asking the federal government for financial assistance.” Um, no? If the Milwaukee Basketball program is the car company, who is the federal government? The SA? No, the students are paying zilch for this trip. The university? Wrong again. It’s the donors who are sending this “bailout.” Guess what, guys? Not your place to tell them anything. They can spend their cash how they want, this is America.
Look, I like Travis Romero-Boeck. I know he’s got the best interest of the university at heart, and if it’s his belief that the basketball program would do better financially if they would just stay home, that’s his right. He’s also wrong. Of the donations to the trip, they all came on top of money that was already given to the department. These donors specifically earmarked their money to go to this trip. All of the money was raised in years past, and donors for the trip are people who give annually to athletics; the money for the trip is in addition to what they already generously donate.
In the press release, the SA states that they want to see “the Athletic Department create a plan this year that would bring the department’s spending in line with its revenues.” What? Because men’s basketball is going on this trip, Charlie Gross is just going to sit there with his thumb up his rear end? Get real. The SA’s long standing complaint is that the Athletic Department is not putting enough effort into fixing their budget. Repeatedly, former AD Bud Haidet would walk into meetings with the Senate Finance Committee, only to be rebuffed because he was asking for more money in segregated fees. I agreed with the SA, with Kyle Duerstein; the athletic department can’t get more money from the students for its budget if they don’t have a plan to eliminate the budget. I italicize for the budget because I want no question as to whether or not I support the basketball arena. Of course I do, I was one of the people who put it out there in the first place.
However, Charlie Gross hasn’t even been on the job for a year. With no finance associate AD since Chuck Lang left for San Diego State three-plus years ago, it’s no wonder we haven’t had our budget cleaned up since then. Gross is no knight in shining armor, but he is getting our budget in line, slowly but surely. One way that Gross and Milwaukee Athletics have cut back is in staffing; when Jason Clark left as marketing director to become GM of the Iron, LeVar Ridgeway was moved from his post as head of ticket sales to the marketing director spot. In his place, they promoted Brian Morgan, who was also a full-time salaried employee. Instead of hiring a replacement, former men’s basketball manager Dan Meier spent the last year as an intern, pulling Morgan’s old duties. Now, with Meier and marketing intern Adam Schemm leaving after their one-year appointments, the athletics budget was cut again, with those two positions being combined into one super-duper marketing/ticket sales intern. There’s one example of a way they are cutting back.
In women’s basketball, we are the only school in the conference with three assistants, a director of basketball operations and a video coordinator. For most schools, the D.O.B.O. and video coordinator are combined in the Horizon League. Expect Gross and Athletics to cut one of those positions, combining the women’s basketball position into one. That will take staff from women’s basketball, but will bring Sandy Botham’s staff in line with her counterparts. One idea? Promote video coordinator Cameron Tucker to one of the vacant assistant jobs, then combine his job with Nichole Drummond‘s D.O.B.O. position and let her do both jobs, maybe with help from a manager. Or promote Drummond and let Tucker do both jobs.
The point I’m trying to get across is this: Milwaukee Athletics is making moves to cut its budget deficit. At $1.5 million a year, eliminating a sport would only kick in a couple hundred grand, tops. Getting Jeter to renegotiate his contract would drop $100k. Moving to D-II would eliminate all the goodwill and notoriety associated with playing in D-I, and still not cut enough costs. D-II schools like UW-Parkside still have to shell out money for scholarships, travel, equipment, et cetera. There’s only one way to get this ship upright, and Travis Romero-Boeck and the SA know exactly what it is, which I’ll get to in a minute.
The basketball program has loyal followers; hell, this whole trip is being paid for by those loyal followers. Just because the basketball program plays with the “mid-major” label, a level where seemingly schools aren’t allowed the same status as “high-majors” like UW-Madison’s Wisconsin Badgers and Marquette University’s Golden Eagles, doesn’t mean a program can’t be successful on the court and off it. Schools like Creighton average over 10,000 fans per home game. Butler, whose chief rival is either Wright State or – you guessed it – Milwaukee, was six inches from a national title. The idea that Milwaukee can’t cut it with the big boys is incorrect. Will we ever have their budgets? Hell no. Wisconsin spends $100 million on all sports, third in the nation behind Ohio State and Florida. Marquette spends $10 million a year on men’s basketball, second only to Duke University. Where did all that money go? Wisconsin had one year, 2005, when they made it to the second weekend. Marquette hasn’t been past the second round since 2003, when Dwyane Wade triple-doubled them to an ass-whooping at the hands of Kansas in the Final Four. But there’s something that those two schools have, and we’re woefully empty of, which floats the boat and sets things in the right direction. Support.
Support is something the Student Association did in June. They said, unanimously, that athletics is important for this university by sinking $22 million of their funds over the next bunch of years into the arena for men’s basketball. The gesture, even more so than the money, was what truly made a difference.
So, suggesting a possible move to D-II just two months after providing that level of support is rather hypocritical, and why? Because Rob Jeter and his coaches raised private money to go on this trip? Had UW-Madison been $8 million in the hole right now, and Bo Ryan raised money to go to Italy with his team, there’s not a chance in the world that anyone at UW-Madison would question that, or go so far as to challenge it.
For the program to make money, they need to do just that: make money. And the biggest way to do it is to pull a swing.
A few years ago, Jason Clark negotiated a deal with Time Warner Cable to move Panther game broadcasting from WMLW to Time Warner Sports. With WMLW, the athletic department paid all production costs for the games to be televised. By switching to Time Warner, Clark essentially pulled a swing; Time Warner offered to pay for all production costs, as well as pay the university for the rights to show Panther games. Hundreds of thousands of dollars that were to be put into television production were saved, and hundreds of thousands more were put into our pocket.
The same has to happen again. However, you can’t get student-athletes to pay into the budget for scholarships. Rob Jeter won’t pay us $400k to coach. But we can do one thing:
Make the move home. Currently, the U.S. Cellular Arena costs us anywhere from $200,000 to $400,000 to start with each season to play men’s basketball as part of our lease with the Wisconsin Center District. The number varies based on who you talk to, but the fact is our school pays hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to WCD for the right to play in the Cell.
On top of that, the athletic department shells out two dollars off of every ticket to the WCD, another part of the lease. That includes students, another piece of information that makes this protest funny. Not only is the university letting students walk into the door for any sport free, they’re spending hundreds on buses to shuttle students back and forth every game, plus the two dollars for each student ticket to the WCD. This is not a joke.
For every ten dollar ticket, the athletic department loses two dollars of the money to the WCD. That’s 20% of the majority of tickets sold.
Of concessions, the university makes nothing; Levy Restaurants and the WCD split the profits. The Athletic Department makes no money from merchandise sales, because the UWM Bookstore is the one that provides the product and makes the money. Of parking, not a dime goes to athletics. The Hyatt and the Wisconsin Center District make the majority of money for parking, as well as some to the city of Milwaukee for street parking if people arrive early.
By accelerating the move home to campus, we effectively turn money we don’t make into money we do make. Special Event parking will make the university hundreds of thousands of dollars alone. Before 2004, the Klotsche Center had no parking for its fans. Now, there are 600 spaces to make serious cash fifteen games a year. Concessions would net us our own money. Instead of Levy and WCD making the cash, Levy would be replaced by UWM Restaurant Services and WCD replaced by Athletics. Tell me Restaurant Services wouldn’t love to run concessions, or even a full-time, 350+ day a year restaurant inside the arena, a la Front Row Friday’s at Miller Park. Merchandise is not necessarily tied to the move, because the university still makes money through the bookstore. But the bookstore would love to run an auxiliary station during games where they don’t have to pay for worker transport downtown, and they can lock the door and merchandise is safe instead of packing everything up following every game.
Which brings me to another point. At UW-Madison and Marquette, and hundreds of other schools across the country, the athletics balance includes money made from selling athletics merchandise. I don’t think it would wipe out the athletics budget deficit, but how about you start counting the sale of Panther apparel as credit towards the athletic department? After all, if we go D-II, how many people are going to be buying Panther hoodies then?
The fact of the matter is, athletics can pull a swing by moving men’s basketball to campus. George Koonce and Kyle Duerstein knew it when they vigorously promoted the arena fee. Travis Romero-Boeck and the SA understood it when they unanimously supported the arena fee.
So why don’t we get to the real issue: stop futzing around. We have the approval for the money, now start the capital campaign to build men’s basketball the on-campus arena that everybody on campus knows will make them money.
The funny thing in all this is the timing. The money for this trip has been sitting in a bank account for several years because the basketball program was afraid to send the message of extravagance; however, every year this came up. They’ve known, since the spring semester, that this trip was going to happen. It was far from a secret; it was public knowledge on campus. The NCAA allows a program ten days to practice for foreign trips, which schools are allowed to take once every four years. The press release came Tuesday, after the team had already practiced three of those days. Don’t you think it’s a little late to cry foul?
What needs to happen, what people need to recognize, is the importance of athletics, specifically men’s basketball, and that fighting its growth is fighting the growth of the university. UWM will only become what it can be when its people realize that athletics is not their adversary; they should not be jockeying for position at the coffers. They need to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that a healthy relationship between athletics, academics, and administration can only mean benefits for all involved.
And a healthy relationship can only happen when all parties stop pointing fingers and get down to business. That business has to be undying support for each other in all our endeavors, because the community has to be on the same page, whether it’s a page on basketball or physics.
But don’t take my word for it. Take it from Haggerty, who knows it has to be support from all UWM for all UWM. “There’s no reason not to.”
Filed under: Commentary, Horizon League, Milwaukee | Tagged: Angela Lang, Bo Ryan, Bud Haidet, Cameron Tucker, College Basketball, D-I, David Nicholas, foreign trip, George Koonce, Italy, Kyle Duerstein, Lake Como, Milwaukee Panthers, NCAA D-II, Nicholas Funds, Nichole Drummond, Rob Jeter, Ryan Haggerty, Sandy Botham, Tone Boyle, Travis Romero-Boeck, UW-Milwaukee, UWM |