As the sun sets on the latest basketball game contracts with the Wisconsin Badgers and the Marquette Golden Eagles, the Milwaukee Panthers have found out something very important the past two seasons.
Home is where the heart is…and where the wins are.
While both losses, last year’s 73-70 decision against Marquette and tonight’s 60-54 decision against Wisconsin prove that the Panthers, like all college basketball teams, play better at home. Outside the 2005-06 game at Wisconsin, the Panthers have not been close to winning on the road at all in the past decade at either in-state high-major program.
College basketball favors the home team, and when the home team is the high-major far more often than not, the Panthers have an uphill battle to climb in all of those games.
For those who are unaware, the current deal with Wisconsin, wrapped up tonight, is a 7-for-2 where the Badgers host seven games with Milwaukee and the Panthers host two home games. The series began in the 2003-04 season and the Panthers hosted in 2007-08 and 2011-12. The Marquette series, on the other hand, is a 4-for-1 that began in the 2007-08 season and wraps up on December 22nd at the Bradley Center.
The series with Marquette received much initial publicity from the local media because the Golden Eagles and Panthers hadn’t played from 1998-2007. The Golden Eagles were seen as ducking the Panthers because of Milwaukee’s rapid rise in the early 2000’s and Marquette’s refusal to negotiate a deal. In reality, there were many harsh feelings between then-MU athletic director Bill Cords and coach Tom Crean on one side, and then-UWM athletic director Bud Haidet and coach Bruce Pearl on the other. Once all parties except Haidet remained, prominent boosters within the Milwaukee program ponied up a $20,000 gift to the university to entice Haidet to sign off on the current series.
Why did they have to put up the cash? Because Haidet was unwilling to sign off on such a loaded contract.
There are few schools in the country that play 4-for-1 deals with anyone, and the 7-for-2 with Wisconsin may be the only one of its kind in NCAA. The reasons are two-fold; in some states, the high-major wants to get around to every one of the mid-majors and low-majors in the state. Ohio State plays a couple in-state mid-majors per year, always in Columbus. Therefore, everyone gets a crack at the Buckeyes, but it’s on their terms and not everyone gets to play them every year.
There is one case that is very interesting. In Iowa, state law requires that each of the four Division I basketball programs play a home and home (1-for-1) rollover series. That is, every other year UNI gets a home game with Iowa and Iowa State. Since the 2001-02 season UNI is 6-5 against both Iowa and Iowa State. This may have something to do with the Hawkeyes and Cyclones being utter dog crap, but the fact remains that UNI’s ability to win in each series is helped greatly by the fact that they play one of them at home every year, then alternate. This season, UNI walloped Iowa at home and won a tough game at Iowa State. Next year, ISU comes to the McLeod Center and UNI travels to Iowa City. Drake, the fourth team in Iowa, also enjoys these series with Iowa and Iowa State. Drake and UNI are in the same conference and already play each other twice per season.
Now, I’m not saying the Panthers should seek legislation to force Wisconsin and Marquette to play a home-and-home. That would be a ridiculous waste of state legislature time and money. That would be almost as ridiculous as pushing through a bill that requires voters to have a photo ID when there were only 20 cases of voter fraud in the last presidential election, 18 of which were cases of felons trying to vote.
If I am Rick Costello, my path forward is clear. Offer each school a home-and-home rollover series (a rollover is where the contract renews itself automatically until one party wishes it to stop) that begins in 2012-13 at the Arena against Marquette and the Kohl Center against Wisconsin.
Knowing that the chances of either school accepting a home-and-home are slim to none, the immediate response to a “no” should be to offer the Badgers and Golden Eagles a rollover 2-for-1. The Golden Eagles are in the middle of such a deal with Green Bay and were discussing the same with Milwaukee before athletic director Steve Cottingham resigned as a result of the Marquette sexual abuse scandal.
Should Marquette or Wisconsin refuse a 2-for-1 deal with Milwaukee, then the honest answer is to cut ties. The fact is that while the Panther fan base is excited to play both the Badgers and Golden Eagles, the Black and Gold no longer need to bend to their terms. There are numerous high-majors that are willing to give Milwaukee 2-for-1’s to play them. Cincinnati and Missouri were two that the Panthers had to pass up on because the teams couldn’t match dates. There are others that Milwaukee can go out and play.
If the Panthers can’t get enough high-major draws to play in Milwaukee once every three years, I’d be all for getting more Missouri Valley or Atlantic Ten teams to hop on the 2-for-2 or home-and-home express. The UNI game Saturday was the second in a 2-for-2 series between the Panther brothers. Milwaukee fans would be interested in great 2-for-2 series with Wichita State, Missouri State or Creighton as well. Bradley and Southern Illinois are series we should be pursuing as well.
The fact is, with 350 college basketball teams, there are more than enough opportunities for Milwaukee to find a more even series with other teams. The Panthers can’t get a 2-for-1 with Wisconsin? Too bad. Some high-major would be willing to play that series, especially with the opportunity to recruit in Milwaukee.
Perhaps a home-and-home with Saint Louis could be worked out; we all know how Kwamain Mitchell is doing for Rick Majerus this year, perhaps he’d like to dip back into his hometown recruiting pool. I know our coaches would like to find another Tony Meier or Lonnie or Shaq Boga in St. Louis.
If Wisconsin and Marquette are willing to work out a deal that is more equitable from the Black and Gold perspective, I’m all for it. Anything more lopsided than a 2-for-1, however, is pushing it too far and would call for the end of the series until the high-majors understand this isn’t low-major “Wisconsin-Milwaukee” anymore.
Otherwise you’re just catering to their desire, for the contract to continue giving us an annual loss by design.