In the days since I posted here that the Panthers should seek a 2-for-1 or better with MU and UW or pursue other opportunities in scheduling, there has been a raucous debate on the UWMFreak forum as to whether or not that should be our athletic department’s policy moving forward.
It was mentioned in passing that because of their following and attendance, Marquette and Wisconsin have the upper hand in scheduling. While I agree that they have more support from their respective fan bases (in sheer size), I think there is an underlying, ugly truth that I think we need to admit.
At this point in time, Wisconsin fans are Wisconsin fans, Marquette fans are Marquette fans, and Milwaukee fans are Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Marquette fans.
This isn’t to say that the Badgers’ fan base doesn’t cheer for Milwaukee or Marquette. I think the Badger fans cheer politely for the Panthers as their “little brother” and a state school, and Marquette fans are largely indifferent to Milwaukee, preferring to use the “What does a Milwaukee grad call a Marquette grad? Boss!” type of joking when referring to the program. This is the same way USC looks at UCLA, and it’s also garbage, because the truth is the Milwaukee grad doesn’t call the Marquette grad anything unless he’s visiting Chicago. Back to my point, I think Marquette’s die hards would not be pleased to admit that there is a sizable portion of their fan base that roots for Wisconsin football. But the point is that most Badgers fans are only polite or casual Milwaukee, Marquette and Green Bay fans, most Marquette fans (based in Milwaukee) are only polite or casual UW System school fans. Milwaukee, on the other hand, seems to be tethered to UW (and to a far lesser extent, MU).
Part of the lack of support on our side of the fence here is that so many of our fans, even a significant portion of the posters on the UWMFreak forum, sit on that same fence.
We talk about getting people to put themselves “all-in” to the Panther program, how the Panthers deserve a fan base that matches other high-level mid-major programs, yet so many of us turn around and root for Wisconsin when they play Michigan State or some other Big Ten school.
We are not Wisconsin. We do not exist to be their JV team. It is about time our fan base, especially our die-hards who read PantherU and participate in online discussion, understands that and decides to go in 100% on our side.
I’m not saying that we need everyone to denounce Bucky Badger. I’m not even saying we need to ban red from the Arena on game days. I’m just saying that we will never be the program we want to be, with the fan base we want to be, until it is widely accepted among us that the Panthers are all we need as a fan base moving forward.
I cannot tell you how disappointed I was to see a certain someone wearing a Panther pullover and Badger hat at the Badger game. This was a significant person to our program who sits in a very prominent spot. Here’s a tweet from Bill Potter of the Horizon League office:
That’s someone from our League office recognizing a major problem sitting in front of him. You know why he recognized it immediately? Because it’s not a problem at Butler. Why is it not a problem at Butler? It has nothing to do with the Final Fours, because it wasn’t a problem before either. Butler fans have accepted that their program is the only one that matters to them and Indiana and Purdue can go off themselves.
If you think that’s a private school thing, ask someone who went to the UNI game last weekend if they noticed any Iowa or Iowa State fans in the crowd. My bet is there’s not many. If you want to know how their diehards think of UI and ISU, just check out PantherNation.com. It’s not PantherNation.com in the winter and PantherandHawkeyeNation.com in the fall.
This is cast aside as a non-issue by our own fans and people in the state because the grand majority of us only know Milwaukee as Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the plucky hyphen school that could who came into D-I in the early 90’s and used some apparent “magic” to become nationally relevant a couple of times in the mid-2000’s. People around here don’t see a problem with Milwaukee’s fan base doubling as a Badger fan base mainly because of two things:
1. There is no football team.
2. The program is mid-major.
The first is BS because as we know, the lack of a football team has not hurt Gonzaga, Xavier, Dayton (Pioneer League doesn’t count), Butler, Creighton, Saint Mary’s, Bradley, and a myriad of other programs to boot, not to mention Marquette. The second is garbage because almost every one of the teams mentioned in the last sentence are mid-majors, or at least operate outside the Power 6 conferences.
The fact is, Milwaukee went D-I in 1990, took about ten years to really get rolling, and once it did, no one thought to tell the Badger fans operating in the fan base that it was okay to drop the Bucky love.
Looking at all those schools, you know what I see? Time. At some point in their history, every one of these schools was nationally relevant, and it happened at a time earlier than the 2005 basketball season. Some have continued to be big time (Butler hitting its apex and Xavier continuing theirs), but all of them, at one point or another, stopped being for someone else and began being about themselves.
That’s what I’m asking us to be. I’m not asking you to go out and convert everyone you know to be Panther fans (although that would be nice) or even to cat call the Badger fans who wander into the Arena. Instead, I’m asking that unless you have some deep, equal connection to Madison that you do to Milwaukee (i.e. you have a degree from Madison), that you reassess what being a fan of that program really does for you. Is Milwaukee not good enough for you, that you have to continue clinging to the Badgers like some fan of convenience?
Be honest with yourself. If Milwaukee is good enough to be a fan, surely it is good enough to be your one and only. If it’s football, or hockey, or the high-major life that you seek, instead of just copping out and cheering for the team that has those things, maybe you should be putting all that effort into pushing for those things here, at Milwaukee. I know that as a university, our academics are close to or fast approaching those at Louisville, Cincinnati, and the entire freakin’ SEC. I know that the athletics program, under Costello, is moving in the right direction – they’re eliminating the debt, the budget deficit is now non-existant, the basketball arena is on its way, and they’re being pro-active about adding sports. I know that the enrollment of the university outstrips that at many “BCS” schools, so why are we going to continue to deny ourselves a seat at the table? I’m not talking about conference, but the table of schools with fan bases who don’t claim multiple allegiances.
There may be some of you out there who read this and worry about sticking your neck out there; maybe you are the lone person in your group of friends that cheers on the Panthers in a gang of Badger fans. Perhaps you worry about being the vast minority.
This much I know: if we, as a fan base, make a strong, concerted effort to be Milwaukee first, Milwaukee alone, then we will find ourselves surrounded by fellows who only care for the Panthers.
Like my beliefs on the basketball series with Marquette and Wisconsin, my beliefs in this matter are independent from any other program. I consider Wisconsin my mortal enemy. I understand that not only do many here not share my view, but see Wisconsin as a second program or even Milwaukee as second to Wisconsin. But as I said, this needs to be all about us. We need to be all about us. Because Milwaukee will never be what Milwaukee can be if Milwaukee doesn’t accept that they are Milwaukee and not Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
It may be just a name to you, a non-issue that people like me drone on about with no reason to really take heed. But to me, it’s a symbol of a much larger problem; Milwaukee isn’t held back by anyone but themselves. We the fan base are more culpable than anyone else.
We’re not in high school anymore. It’s time to lose the security blanket and embrace what is real.