Downtown needs to become reality, immediately

In any other year, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee could step back, look at the fan reaction to the move to the Klotsche Center, run their numbers, smell the roses, and make a decision on where to play in the next few months. After all, it was June last year when athletic director Andy Geiger made the decision to move games on campus. So in any other year, there would be time.

In 2013, time is a factor – and a big one. The Missouri Valley Conference and the Atlantic 10 Conference are two leagues reeling from body blows sustained from the Big East sucker punch. The MVC lost Creighton – its big budget, big name, big attendance, Jesuit anchor in Omaha – to the Big East. The A10’s losses are worse, and they’re going to go further than that – Xavier has been the most constant presence for over a decade, and Butler barely knew them – but they’re both on their way to the Big East. Saint Louis and Dayton will follow them next year.

With its midwest presence all but gone, the A10 is likely to go back to its old glory as an east coast anchor – its move to add George Mason is proof of that – so they aren’t really an option for Milwaukee.

The MVC is an option, and it’s the best option. Some may ask, is it prudent? Does it really matter to be in the MVC over the Horizon League? The answer is yes. The unfortunate truth in college basketball is that programs are judged not by regular season championships or by big wins in the regular season, but by their performance in the postseason’s NCAA Tournament. The Missouri Valley has been a constant performer in the tournament – SIU, UNI, Wichita State and Bradley all have picked up recognition with success in the Big Dance – and the conference will continue to be when Creighton leaves.

The Horizon League Champion, post-Butler, can expect a 13-15 seed from here on out. The Selection Committee has shown that they have no respect for schools like Wright State, Cleveland State, Valparaiso and Detroit when it comes to seeding in the NCAA Tournament. Seeding is everything – the difference in victories between 12-seeds and 13-seeds is staggering. The Missouri Valley Conference sends teams to the dance at-large – not winning the conference tournament – and it sends them in seeds that have great shots to win when they get there. The fan bases are bigger, the history is better, and it’s a conference that is insulated from further poaching – there are no schools leaving the MVC. The television deal is significantly better than the Horizon League despite the fact that Horizon television markets are much, much larger – it has a lot to do with the fact that MVC schools own their markets, whereas Horizon schools are living in somebody else’s backyard. Would you rather play the conference title game on Tuesday nights on the ESPN family of networks against the Summit League and OVC, or would you rather play the conference title game on CBS by itself on Selection Sunday?

What we’re essentially talking about here is marketing. College athletics, for better or worse, are the best marketing for a university. FGCU is finding out that success in the Big Dance is a huge boon for applications. Butler received an estimated $600 milliion in free marketing for its 2010 Final Four appearance alone. You can see it at Milwaukee, too – my freshman class in the fall of 2005 was the last that made its decision where to go before the Sweet 16, and that year there were 26,000 students and a 92% selectivity rate. Move a couple years down the road, and Milwaukee had dropped selectivity to 65% and enrollment up beyond 30,000, and this is before Innovation Park, the School of Freshwater Sciences or the School of Public Health. Simply put, basketball puts your school on the map. Look at all the ads this weekend for universities in the Big Dance – that’s in front of a television audience you can’t buy.

With men’s basketball as the only revenue sport on campus – and by extension the only one with the capability of playing in front of millions in a television audience – the university needs to make sure that the team prospers. Making a move to the MVC would be insurance for a team in case it is NCAA Tournament-caliber but loses in its conference tournmament.

The 8-24 season was tough, but teams turn it around all the time. What was far more damaging to our conference expansion resume was the move from an 11,000-seat basketball arena downtown with the best history in the state to a 3,000-seat multi-purpose gym that was built in the 1970’s and even then wasn’t meant to hold a Division I basketball program. We have gone from the home of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson to the home of Olivier de Smedt. If you don’t know who that is, there’s your sign.

Let’s not forget that a move downtown would be in keeping with the university’s moves in expansion. Innovation Park, SFS and SPH are joining Continuing Ed in stretching the footprint of the campus. Isn’t it only fitting that the basketball team, wearing Milwaukee on its chest, embody that own-the-city expansion?

The timing, surprisingly, is perfect. Instead of spending upwards of $60 million building an arena that will only bring us to our peers in the Horizon League, why don’t we spend $5 million and buy 14 years of naming rights to rename the U.S. Cellular Arena the Milwaukee Arena? That’s the original name of the building, where the Bucks and Marquette won championships, where Doctor J ended his career, where the Beatles and the Rolling Stones rocked the crowd. It’s where 44,000 people come each year to see UWM’s graduating class. And seriously, is there any better billboard than this:

The great part about it is that it’s much earlier than an on-campus arena, you set yourself up for membership in the MVC, and you can divert money to my ideas of a $35 million practice facility and the Alumni House as a dorm, with only 49% or smaller percentage coming from the basketball team. That solves our facilities problems for the long-term while jumping our program to the national level.

But it has to be done now. The A10 has already made some moves, and the MVC is most definitely looking to follow. A sense of urgency is required, or else we’re stuck in the Horizon League.

Speaking of the Horizon League, did it occur to anyone that the Commissioner was not at Amanda Braun’s introduction? Come to think of it, he wasn’t at George Koonce’s or Rick Costello’s introductions either. He was there for Andy Geiger’s introduction – after all, he recommended Geiger to Lovell. And Geiger recommended moving to the Klotsche Center, which severely hampered the possibility of Milwaukee leaving the Horizon League for a better conference. I wonder who stands to gain from Milwaukee staying in the Horizon League.

Our fortunes are reversible, but the expiration date is coming quickly. This university can’t afford to wait a month for Amanda Braun to show up, although she most certainly would sign off on a move to the MVC and a move downtown to the Arena, which could be called the Milwaukee Arena as soon as summer 2014, when the Wisconsin Center District’s deal with U.S. Cellular expires. The dirty little secret is that the university only lost about $30,000 last year by playing in the Cell. A full MVC schedule would be a huge boon for attendance, enough that we might actually make money playing downtown.

The best part about this idea is that it’s reversible. If we decide to play games on campus in a new arena or renovated Klotsche in the future, we can still make that move. If we build, we’ll never go back downtown because of the tens of millions poured into a facility that needs men’s basketball as a tenant in perpetuity to justify its existence.

Let’s hope that Chancellor Lovell makes the right call in this situation. The future of the program is at stake today, not tomorrow.

Delaney could be huge

Milwaukee has been looking for a game changer, and according to sources, it looks like they’ve found their man. PantherU has confirmed that a big piece of the puzzle could be bringing his talents to Bradford Beach this summer, as Vincennes CC sophomore Deshawn Delaney has an offer from Milwaukee among others. We’re told that Milwaukee has made Delaney one of their top priorities in the spring recruiting season.

Delaney, originally from Carver Military Academy in Chicago, played this season at Vincennes, leading the Trailblazers along with Darius Carter Jr. to a fourth-place finish at the NJCAA National Championship Tournament this month. Delaney scored 15.8 ppg, pulled down 8.1 rpg, dished out 2.4 apg, blocked 62 shots and shot 51.4% from the field in 2012-13. In his final game at the NJCAA Final Four, Delaney scored 23 points and was 10-14 from the field.

Delaney is, as one observer has said, “The Truth.” PantherU can only assume this means he and Milwaukee Basketball are the perfect match, as the Panthers are looking for a star that fits Delaney’s description. He plays the three, but is versatile enough that he can play multiple positions – a shooting guard in a big lineup or even an undersized power forward when the Panthers want to begin running the floor with a smaller lineup a la Florida Gulf Coast.

Delaney is a three who can play multiple positions on the floor. He is a pure scorer, putting up big numbers with ease. He has an outstanding vertical game that allows him to drop slams, get blocks and pull down a ton of rebounds for a player of his size. He is particularly adept at altering his shot following contact.
The fact that Steve McWhorter, who utterly dominated other point guards in practice this season, is coming off his automatic transfer redshirt should help the Panthers in recruiting Delaney – we’ve been told that the Panthers very well could have the makings of an all-star backcourt with Delaney, McWhorter, and Trinson White running the show for the next two seasons, and the Panthers would not be done with the 2013 class at that – more firepower could be joining an already stacked 2013 class.
Life is definitely looking good in Milwaukee if they can get Delaney to commit; the incoming class would allow Jordan “Jay-O” Aaron and a healthy Thierno “Bobo” Niang to take complementary roles – Bobo could become a full-time backup point guard, and Jordan Aaron could move to a more natural shooting guard role.

Add in the further development of JJ Panoske – who really bloomed once he moved into the top of the rotation – and Matthew Tiby, who is a bull in the china shop and a banger down low, and Milwaukee all of a sudden has the makings of a team built to win in 2013-14 and 2014-15 in a big way.

Want to discuss Deshawn Delaney? We just started a forum topic just for him.

Let FGCU teach you a lesson

As the seconds ticked away in Florida Gulf Coast’s victory over San Diego State yesterday evening, it started to look familiar. Cheerleaders, fans, players and coaches beside themselves with joy. One player on the side, popping out his jersey for the country to read “FGCU.” Another raising his arms, getting the fans to heap more praise on the team – which is impossible, because the crowd couldn’t get any louder. It looked a lot like March 19th, 2005, at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland. The cast of characters was different, the colors blue and green instead of black and gold – but the story was the same. Upstart program, never been on this stage before, shines in the face of adversity and breaks through to the Sweet 16. They’re immediate media darlings, and all is right with the world.

We saw what happened with us. We lost our coach to the realities of college basketball. We lost our players to graduation, and a huge chunk of the fan base when we couldn’t sustain the high level of play that brought them around in the first place.

Hopefully those things don’t happen to FGCU. Hopefully Wilson G. Bradshaw, the president of the university, understands what he has and invests in the future of the program that has just put his school front and center in a nation with thousands of four-year institutions. Hopefully the fans at FGCU realize that nights like tonight may become something of a habit if they don’t cut and run the moment the chips are down.

That’s what has happened here. People got tired of losing (or hell, not winning at the level they had gotten used to so quickly), so they’ve one by one abandoned the Milwaukee program that they cheered so hard for eight years ago. Of those who haven’t left, many also cheer for Marquette and Wisconsin – after all, they need someone to care about in the tournament. The university missed two golden opportunities in 2005 and 2006 to invest in the program by securing the facilities it should have gotten in the late 1980’s and we’re still waiting for today.

This university remains a sleeping giant, with the Big Ten-sized enrollment and the rapidly growing endowment and budget. It’s the anchor of the best neighborhood in a city that is bucking the trend of its midwestern neighbors and actually growing in size, due in part to the culture and business produced in large part by the university.

What’s it going to take to wake it up? Commitment. It’s not just commitment of the Chancellor, or the AD, or the basketball coach. It’s not just the commitment of fans like Jimmy Lemke or Michael Poll or David Nicholas. It’s going to take all of us – each and every one of us, working toward a common goal, united under one banner with one purpose – a better future for Milwaukee Athletics, and in turn the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Once upon a time, John Calipari did an interview for one of the season preview magazines when he was head coach at Memphis. He talked about how “it takes a village” to sustain success as a mid-major. We know that in his case, the statement is something of a joke because what it took at Memphis was a few bags of money and someone to take Derrick Rose’s ACT. But for the rest of us, the quote rings true.

It does take a village. Hundreds of people, working to bring the program up by its boot straps and set it on a course of sustained success. It’s not just the donor’s money, though we need a lot of it. It’s not just students showing up to games, but we need a lot of them. It’s not just Chancellor Lovell breaking out the checkbook and increasing the university’s stake in athletics to match the students’, but that would cure our ills. It’s going to take everyone to do their part.

We can’t wait for the new season – the moves have already begun. FCS juggernauts Georgia Southern and Appalachian State are moving up to FBS in the Sun Belt. George Mason is filling one of the holes blown into the Atlantic 10 by the Big East. More moves are coming; it’s almost a certainty that the Horizon League is going to lose a member or two to the Missouri Valley Conference or the Atlantic 10; it’s likely only a matter of time.

Side note: remember when Milwaukee was a much better candidate for MVC expansion a year ago than it is today? It wasn’t the 8-24 season but the move to the Klotsche Center (you know, the place that wasn’t built for D-I basketball games when it was opened in the 1970’s?) that knocked Milwaukee down the list. Who authorized the move to the Klotsche Center? Does that person and/or people have a vested interest in keeping the Panthers in the Horizon League? Ask yourself that.

I’m not going to stay on the sidelines anymore. As noted last month, I’m no longer letting my crazy fly all over the place. I’ve channeled it into a vision for Milwaukee Athletics that answers many of our burning questions in the present and the future.

That vision needs support, from a legitimate organizing body for Milwaukee’s fan base.

I can’t say much now, but keep an eye on BlackandGoldClub.com in the coming weeks.

Amanda Braun is new AD

Sources have confirmed to PantherU that Amanda Braun will be the next Director of Milwaukee Athletics. An announcement is forthcoming but as yet unscheduled, where Chancellor Mike Lovell and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Michael Laliberte will formally introduce Braun as the new AD. Smart money says that will be some time this week.

None of the sources knew of the terms for Braun’s deal, only that her likely start date will be in early May.

We at PantherU endorsed Paul Plinske from UW-Whitewater for the job, but we wholeheartedly support Amanda Braun as she takes the reigns of Milwaukee Athletics.

Different sources had told PantherU over the weekend that the university’s Open Forum feedback had been overwhelmingly in support of Plinske.

PantherU.com will be following this story as it develops throughout the day.