All right, maybe that’s a bit harsh. Alex Kostal, a former writer for the UWM Post who I have found to be pleasant in my meetings with him, has written an editorial for our former employer calling out the athletic department for its budget deficit. He is using his pulpit as the Special Assistant to the Student Association President on Public Relations to put forth his and Travis Romero-Boeck’s agenda on the state of the budget. Cue PantherU.com’s obligatory “Shut up SA” column, right?
Not only am I going to let Kostal speak his mind without blasting him in defense of Milwaukee Athletics, I’m going to encourage it. Why should we bag on a kid who thinks that our athletics program should be fiscally responsible? This is something we should welcome with open arms; he cares enough about athletics to push for it to be financially stable.
We could have used a student like this in 2003 when the Panthers moved down to the U.S. Cellular Arena full-time. We could have used him when the university was putting together its plans for the Klotsche Center Pavilion back in the late 90’s. We could have used a student like this when we decided to make the move to Division I back in 1988.
Why? Because we always need someone who asks questions. Someone needed to ask “how much will this cost?” when we decided to become renters of a facility we don’t own, miles from campus and too large for our program. Someone needed to say “well if we’re spending all this money on a training and recreation facility on campus, why don’t we renovate or rebuild the arena to D-I level so we can make it produce revenue?” Someone needed to say “If we go D-I, let’s do this right. Are our facilities up to snuff? Have we properly prepped the campus community for the move?”
We didn’t have that student at any of those times, and thus missed the boat on several things that could have helped the university today. In the late 80’s, we could have prepped the faculty, students, and alumni to switch from a D-III mentality to a D-I mentality. We could have helped them realize the benefits, thus getting everyone behind athletics. Baseball remains far off campus, basketball doesn’t have a good facility. Those problems could have been rectified on our move to D-I, much like Northern Kentucky did by building a $60 million arena in preparation for Division I.
By leveling the old Klotsche and building a new arena in conjunction with the Klotsche, we could have made men’s basketball a big-time revenue producer much earlier, and we wouldn’t have half the problems we do now. By fixing that, the move downtown in 2003-04 would not have been needed, and that led to…
The debt. Kostal and Romero-Boeck are right, we need to balance the debt. And it needs a more complex answer than just throwing money at it. But they neglect to realize that we only went under when the bills for the lease at the U.S. Cellular Arena came to the inbox. I’m sure it’s not that they know and don’t want to talk about it, but that they didn’t analyze our debt and how it came to be. They, like past SA leaders, care about the bottom line. Just get it in the black. They never point out how we got there in the first place.
Alex points out that we don’t have leadership, but neglects to point out that we haven’t had a full-time finance guy since Chuck Lang left the program for San Diego State in 2006. Not until Charlie Gross was hired early this year did athletics have someone whose sole job was to balance the budget.
When the athletics program meets with members of the SA to determine the amount of money athletics gets in segregated fees in the future, I hope that all parties present at the meeting will have read this blog, and this one too. I don’t want to give myself credit, but I hear from a lot of people that we need to cut spending, and that’s only one way to improve the bottom line. By all means, there are things that can be cut; women’s basketball just took another hit, as their Director of Basketball Ops and Video Coordinator positions have been combined, which brings them to the level of the rest of the Horizon League. That’s just one cut of many the program has made in the past two years to get the budget deficit under control.
In Kostal’s piece, he mentions the $25 fee to build a new arena or renovate the Klotsche Center on campus as an example of gross over-spending. He refuses to acknowledge that the move to the Cell in the first place is the reason for the budget deficit, and moving men’s basketball back to campus will go a long way towards knocking that debt down for the count.
By playing games on campus in a new arena, the program opens doors to make money that are otherwise unavailable at the Cell. If our program is ever going to stay above water, it needs to find ways to make money, not just cut spending. Things like putting on high school tournaments, merchandise and playing guarantee games can make us money, but there’s road blocks for each. High school tournaments would find the Klotsche Center more attractive if it were a new arena on campus; we’d be able to at least put on sectionals for the WIAA tournament, like the Al McGuire Center. Merchandising is the best way to make money and market the program; athletics knows what its fans want as far as apparel, but fans can only get stuff from the bookstore at an overblown price. That’s if they can get off work in time to get there before it closes, or wade through its understocked and obsolete online section. Hell, it’s even difficult for us to get guarantee games, because the high-majors that want to pay out the money do so to get an easy win, and they’d much rather schedule a team in the high 200’s or 300’s of the RPI than a team hovering around the top 100 like Milwaukee.
There’s nothing to say that Kostal and the SA cannot push the Athletic Department to better manage its debt. We need that voice there. But no matter what we do, we’re just spinning our wheels or only part-way solving the problem until men’s basketball is back on campus in an arena that is set up to make money, i.e. not the Klotsche Center with added seats.