Panthers finish off Mustangs to open with a W

Without star forward Tony Meier for a few more weeks with a calf injury and star point guard Kaylon Williams to a one-game suspension, the Milwaukee Panthers had trouble establishing themselves on both sides of the floor in a 71-65 victory over the Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs on Saturday afternoon.

Ryan Allen's ability to score was a major plus.

Milwaukee was led by Ja’Rob McCallum and Ryan Allen in scoring, with each dropping in 16 points apiece.  The Panthers also got nine points and 17 rebounds by James Haarsma, who practically lived on the offensive end with different Mustangs draped all over him.

The Panthers had to get through a major shooting funk to begin the game, and didn’t establish a decent lead until the waning moments of the first half.  Mitch Roelke led the charge by hitting two three-pointers, one with seconds remaining, to put the Panthers up 33-24.

Milwaukee reached a lead of about 18 points at one point in the second half before losing their way.  The Mustangs had their way on the offensive end, finding open driving lanes for most of the second half.  Help defense in the post struggled for Milwaukee.

The Panthers offense struggled without their starting point guard to give direction.  With Williams sidelined, point guard duties were spread between McCallum and Paris Gulley, who each scored well but are not point guards.  Gulley had major trouble dribbling to his left and got caught several times, and the team overall was susceptible to the press for a few possessions until they figured it out.

The Panthers hit the road tomorrow, squaring off against Northern Illinois in DeKalb on Monday night at 7 p.m.

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Arians inks the dotted line

Austin Arians of Madison Edgewood signed his National Letter of Intent to play for the Milwaukee Panthers, according to the coaching staff.

Arians is a 6’6”, 200 lb. small forward who had offers from Montana, Texas-Pan American, Cal Poly, Nebraska-Omaha, Eastern Kentucky, Wofford, South Dakota, and Belmont. The Panther-to-be also took an official visit to Pepperdine when he went out to Montana in September.

Arians is the first player of the class of 2012 to commit to Milwaukee. The Panthers have two scholarships remaining in the 2012-13 season.

Dave Begel graces us with his vast intelligence

This is the face of reason. And duck tails.

Upon learning that the website OnMilwaukee.com was no longer keeping Andrew Wagner as its sports editor, I promptly asked head honcho Jeff Sherman over Twitter what was going on with his sports section.  The Shermanator is active on the social networking site and I was hoping to get the Reader’s Digest version of the story that was safe for public view.

Instead, he must have assumed that I couldn’t find the link, so he replied with one to the entire sports section.  I must say, I’m not particularly inclined to read OnMilwaukee.com – their sports section doesn’t really add anything to the landscape (which is why I assumed Wagner was canned) – but sometimes it’s almost like they’re speaking directly to me. As in they’re standing on a soap box telling me what I love isn’t worth a damn because it’s not valuable to anyone. And by they, I mean Dave Begel.

For those of you who are blissfully unaware, Dave Begel is the wizard who came up with this little piece of magic in 2010 when George Koonce left the program.  If you don’t have the time to read that or don’t want to lose a few IQ points, basically it’s a slam piece that was done with less effort than the Gary D’Amato/Lori Nickel “Party’s Over” article that was published just a couple months later.

But Begel is at it again, not only taking the hard-line stance against the Milwaukee Panthers but doing remarkably no research in coming up with this article.

There's so little interest in football at UWM that 1,000 people showed up to support UWM's club football team play Marquette's club football team.

First off, Begel makes the assumption that the $87,000 study commissioned by new athletic director Rick Costello was not intended to actually research football and ice hockey, among other sports, but was actually intended to be a farce that would come back and tell the university that it instead should focus on current sports and go ahead with the on-campus basketball arena.  Begel also thinks this is a waste of time.

It’s painfully obvious, based on the complete lack of research and effort put into writing the piece, that Begel took the assignment knowing exactly what he was going to write, and be damned anyone who could actually set him straight.  This is no more apparent than in the following quote:

“I believe that the university has made it clear to the consultants what they want, and that’s what they are going to get.”

Really, Dave?  You believe?  Did you even attempt to talk to Rick Costello and figure out if your beliefs hold merit?

Without so much as putting in an e-mail to Rick Costello, he dove in and began blabbering on about how UWM athletics is a waste of time, something guaranteed to get some hits from Panther fans (and yes, I know I’m feeding the beast).

The real problem I have with this article, beyond the fact that it’s complete garbage, is that he just assumes that the basketball arena is part of the study, and that the study is being done to reaffirm our reasons for building an arena rather than actually pursue the idea of football and hockey.

A Panther ice hockey team would be one of just 50 or so in D-I and would help separate us from Marquette in a big way.

Anyone who has spent two minutes with Rick Costello knows there is nothing further from the truth. For one, Costello has already said that the planning for the arena is going on right now – if this study were to have any bearing on the basketball arena whatsoever, even the perception of influence – we wouldn’t be going forward with the arena.  As it stands, the Panthers are plunging forward.  I wouldn’t be surprised if an announcement concerning the basketball arena coincided with the UNO game on-campus on December 17th.

After getting through the consultant section of the article, Begel goes through a list of reasons why the basketball arena doesn’t need to be built.

First, he discusses how campus is largely quiet at 4:30 p.m.  It’s almost like there’s no entertainment options for the UWM community on-campus! I wonder how they can fix that…

After that shallow, no-thought remark, Begel mentions how there is no space for an arena on the East Side.  If he were at all familiar with the situation (i.e. spent 5 minutes researching or talking to anyone), he’d know about the Wisconsin Paperboard Corporation, the land by Riverview Residence Hall, the Hartford school, and the four locations an arena could be put directly next to the Klotsche Center (The grassy knoll, current footprint, east of the pavilion, and my personal favorite, the Norris Health Center).

Of course, this is the genius who assumed that UWM’s $10 million budget was all tax dollars, and there’s a better way to spend $10 million of state taxpayers’ money.  Idiot.

The fact is Begel here is far behind the times.  A commenter on the “UWM should drop sports altogether” article from last spring, “SarahintheCity,” said that the first thing she wondered was which school Begel attended, and that his piece was offensive to anyone who attended UWM, even non-sports fans, because it assumes that UWM as a university isn’t worth much.

My guess is that Begel went in-state, because if he’d have lived in another state, he’d notice that mid-major athletics gets a lot of support around the country.  If he went to Madison, it’s just another case of Bucky’s Boys slamming UWM.  If he went to Marquette (which I doubt, because in their journalism school you learn that research is somewhat important), he could be genuinely afraid of UWM distinguishing its athletics program as different from Marquette.  If he went to Green Bay, the rivalry is obvious.  My money is that Begel attended another UW System school, because it doesn’t take a lot for someone from a WIAC school to believe that Milwaukee should be playing at their level.  Of course, the possibility remains that he attended UWM, and judging by his age was around in the sixties or seventies, when UWM was still a fledgling school.

The thing I just don’t get, and this comes from our own fans too, is this belief that where we are right now is our ceiling.  Hello! McFly! Twenty years ago, this university made the jump to D-I after spending an ill-advised decade in college sports purgatory.  In 1991, if you said the Panthers would be in the MCC, you’d get odd looks.  In 1999, if you said we’d compete for MCC titles, you’d get a raised eyebrow.  In 2002, if you said we were going to the NCAA Tournament, people would look at you funny.  In 2004, if you said we were going to the Sweet 16 and were going to average 5,000 fans, people would say you’re crazy.

And that’s the point.  Bud Haidet loved to tell the story of when he was hired as athletic director.  He and Beth showed up at a basketball game on campus and could count on two hands the amount of fans in the stands in 1988.  Apart from the occasional rivalry game, 1,000 per game seemed nuts.  As much as 2,000 per game seemed ridiculous when Bo Ryan took over.  Five thousand seemed like a pipe dream when Bruce Pearl was hired.  And now, with Jeter entering his seventh year, we’re really going to assume that football and ice hockey are dead?  Why because a fossil like Dave Begel assumes it is so and tells us as much?  Because the Big Show on WSSP just thinks it’s never going to happen?

This is what I know.  For twenty years, this athletics program has gradually been growing.  The debt we currently suffer is from an ill-advised quick move to the Cell full-time and the acceptance of a ludicrous lease with the Wisconsin Center District.  It’s not because our basketball team doesn’t make money.  It’s that our basketball team, right now, is the only revenue sport on campus and is supposed to not only pay its way out of a stupid lease, but also pay for every other sport on campus.  You can bet your ass that if we had leveled the Klotsche Center and built an arena with it – completed in 2006 with the Pavilion – we’d be operating in the black.  But Nancy Zimpher got cold feet and wouldn’t go full-scale with an arena, we were stuck playing at the Cell because, wouldn’t you know it, we outgrew the Klotsche Center, and we were forced to swallow the terrible lease because we had no other alternative.

In Panther Gold are the places a basketball arena could go. Easily.

That should be the best indication for all of you who are skeptical.  In 2000, no one here thought the Klotsche Center was too small for us – outdated, maybe, but not small – and now our fans are so used to everything the Cell offers our fans that they actually avoided going to the Western Michigan game last season to make a statement that they wouldn’t accept a return to the KC.

So where Begel comes up with the idea that men’s basketball should stay in the Cell with its disgustingly awful lease (of which I’m sure he knows nothing), I have no idea.  The fact that the two major sports we’re looking into adding are, you guessed it, REVENUE SPORTS, should give everyone an indication that we’re ready to help the basketball program.

Football at many schools doesn’t make enough to cover its costs, and the possibility that it also could be like that at Milwaukee is significant.  But without football, and to a lesser extent ice hockey, Milwaukee continues along a path where men’s basketball is expected to put 15 sports on its shoulders and trudge along.

That’s why we’re building an arena, Dave. That’s also why we’re looking into adding revenue sports.

So don’t be offended if we don’t take you seriously.  I know you think OnMilwaukee.com is the bomb, but you’re the one that keeps bombing at his job.

Kindly leave the Milwaukee Panthers name out of your writing. And if you must, put in some research before you write something that a freshman at the UWM Post could easily beat.

Panther Madness a resounding success

It was frightening.

Pulling into the Klotsche Center parking lot and getting a spot on the first floor, I was extremely worried that my suspicions would be correct – that the basketball teams’ Panther Madness would be put on in front of 25 students checking their smart phones for the score of the Brewers game.

I’ve never been so happy to be so wrong before.  On a stunning nightcap for Chancellor Mike Lovell’s big day, the Milwaukee Panthers put on an amazing show in front of 1,000 fans at the Klotsche Center, about 700 of which were students.

From the opening by the Rim Rockers to the close of the Dunk Contest, the Panthers put on a show that they never have in the history of the event – fun from start to finish.  Milwaukee Athletics gave away iPads like they were candy (thanks to the Student Association) and threw hundreds of t-shirts out to a crowd that had already been given free t-shirts at the door.

While the Dunk Contest that served at the main event followed the NBA protocol, the three-point contest was engaging and very tightly contested – instead of having one player shoot five balls from five spots around the arc, they pit the men’s and women’s teams against each other in a three-round shootout with each round having three players per side and two balls to shoot from anywhere around the arc.  The pace was frenetic and it was a lot more appealing than the typical three-point contest.  By the way, Paris Gulley is going to kill the Horizon League with his outside shot.

The best part of all was that the students got into it, including the awkward women’s basketball dance number and especially men’s head coach Rob Jeter’s cameo in the dance number by the men’s basketball and dance teams.  Hopefully they’ll be willing to hop on the buses and get down to the Cell for some men’s games and over to the Klotsche for some women’s games; I was impressed with the talent Sandy Botham’s team has brought in.

I took several videos at the event.  Pictures will come when I can figure out how to put them on the computer.

I would love to put up Part One of the Dunk Contest, but the video is eight minutes long and my phone isn’t able to upload a file that size to the internet.  Once I get it off my phone I’ll add it.

Here is the video put together by Milwaukee Athletics’ Sports Information Department (narrated by Tim Prahl):

These dominoes will reach Milwaukee

When news on Sportscenter broke Saturday that Pitt and Syracuse had applied for membership in the ACC, the first thing I thought of was, “Well, there goes the BIG EAST.”  Of course that’s only in football.  For the readers of this blog, the resident BIG EAST program, Marquette, is in no serious danger.  When the dust settles, the Golden Eagles, they of the second-highest expense account in D-I basketball, will have a home, and that home will not be of the “mid-major” status.  Either the basketball schools of the BIG EAST will rally around and continue to push forward, or the conference that they merge with (probably several schools in the A-10) will be bumped up beyond its current status.

Pitt's football program, not nationally-powerful basketball, will get it into the ACC.

But where does that leave Milwaukee?

If the moves being talked about go through – Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to the Pac-12, Pitt and Syracuse to the ACC – then there are many other dominoes that will fall.  The Sooner State departures will leave the Big 12 with just seven schools, more than half of which are pretty average as far as football programs go.  At this point, the possibilities of the University of Texas going independent are far too great – they, of course, made it clear that’s the direction they were leaning with the creation of the Longhorn Network – and the Big 12’s remaining institutions would be scrambling to find homes elsewhere.

Pitt and Syracuse leaving for the ACC creates other real issues in that conference.  While losing Syracuse football isn’t a terrible loss, Pitt is one of the two-three marquee programs left in the BIG EAST. It leaves the 2012 conference with seven football schools (lose two, gaining TCU) and eight non-football schools (this includes FBS independent Notre Dame and still-FCS Villanova and Georgetown).  If they want to continue in their current direction and avoid blowing up the conference, the BIG EAST can turn to several schools: Temple, the obvious choice and former BIG EAST football program has regained its basketball worth and could join in all sports; Memphis, whose football program is a joke but has a basketball program that would go a long way towards filling the void left by Pitt and Syracuse; and UCF, whose football program is already just as good or better than most BIG EAST schools and would provide an obvious rivalry/travel partner with USF.

UCF's football program puts it ahead of many non-football schools in the push for high-major membership.

The difference here is the BIG EAST schools have choices here, the Big 12 schools really don’t.  If the predictions of journalists like Todd McShay come to be and we’re heading towards four superconferences, then the obvious conferences out are the BIG EAST and Big 12.

For those Marquette fans who stumble upon my blog, I will reiterate that the likely scenario for MU in case this happens is a fifth “high-major” conference that plays only basketball.  You have enough somewhat geographically joined programs to make at least one high-major conference out of basketball-only institutions.  Marquette, DePaul, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Providence, Villanova and Georgetown would make a very strong high-major conference on their own. There are strong annual schools in MU, Notre Dame, Villanova and Georgetown.  There are middle-of-the-pack schools that have good years on occasion in Providence and St. John’s.  And there are bottom-feeders in Seton Hall and DePaul to bend over and take the whoopin’ as they have been for awhile now.

Of course, should John Marinatto not want to sit with an eight-team basketball conference, he could push for the addition of any number of other schools to make the BIG EAST still the primary national power of the northeast in basketball.  Xavier and Dayton are the obvious additions that would bring the conference to 10.  If they wanted to go higher, Richmond and VCU would be great fits, as would Old Dominion and George Mason have better programs than Providence, DePaul or Seton Hall.  If they’re looking for 16, of course, there are other teams – UMass, St. Joseph’s, Temple, St. Louis…and then, there’s Butler.

Could this be a future conference game against St. John's? It could be more likely than Milwaukee.

That’s where it leaves Milwaukee.  The Horizon League, based in Indianapolis just minutes from the Butler University campus, would lose one of its two flagship all-sport schools.  Milwaukee would lose its archrival, the conference would move back to nine members (and still have YSU), and we’d be on the outside looking in of a New National Collegiate Athletic Order that is rumored to be talked about amongst the presidents of the biggest college athletic programs.

To them, it makes sense.  A smaller piece of the NCAA Tournament pie is OK when you have about 260 less schools to share that pie with.  Solidifying around the BCS is a good thing to those schools, because it’s all about having more money.

They also know that at some point, student-athletes are going to get paid, especially football and men’s basketball players.  It’s essential for them to be the first in the money-grab, and these superconferences are their first major step towards consolidating that power.  The basketball-only high-major conferences will likely be a part of that – I don’t think paying players would keep Buzz Williams from the upper echelon.  And there’s room for other schools to get into that party, whether it’s basketball-only or with football.

Even if the superconferences secede from the NCAA, there’s room for advancement because what’s left on the table – Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Texas Tech, Missouri, Baylor, Texas (unless they go independent), Cincinnati, UConn, Louisville, Rutgers, South Florida, West Virginia, the BIG EAST basketball schools, the upper echelons of the MVC, Horizon, CAA, A-10, Mountain West, WCC, and C-USA – still holds a lot of value to the “four superconferences” group and whatever schools out of the previous group they pick up.

There won’t be unending spaces – like I said, the seceding superconferences won’t want to share the pie with everyone – but there is space for both basketball-only and football schools in the New World Order run by Florida, Ohio State, Duke and USC.

Even if the superconferences don’t secede from the NCAA and they just consolidate their power within the system, there are places to land.  Milwaukee has a chance to jump into that, or jump into a beneficial situation.  There is one thing I am absolutely sure of at this moment, however:

Engelmann Stadium may host nationally powerful soccer programs, but it won't be Milwaukee's ticket to the big time.

Milwaukee Athletics in its current state will not garner an invitation to move up from anyone unless Butler mandates it, and the likelihood of that is next to nil.

This is what we have working against us.  There are spaces for basketball-only schools and there are spaces for football/basketball schools.  As a basketball-only school, we immediately cut our chances of moving up (or, should Butler bolt, our chances of merely treading water) in half.  That is hurt even further by our current basketball attendance, as its the only revenue sport we have to bank on and is trumped by most schools in the MVC, the upper-half of the A-10, a few schools in our own conference, most of the WCC and Mountain West, several in the WAC, and a slew of other schools.

In short, by putting all our eggs in the men’s basketball basket, we are not only showing how weak of an option we are to potential conferences, we are helping showcase the school across the street.  Marquette is everything we are and more.  Basketball-only, they are in a better conference, have tons money, they have the growth-sport of the future (lacrosse) instead of the one dying in the north (baseball), and in the only sport that will get them into the conference big dance, they have significantly higher attendance, past success, recent success, and potential for future success.

Even if a conference of the future in the “haves” sees value in us, they will see more value in Marquette and go that direction.

So, what Milwaukee needs to do is differentiate itself from Marquette and double its chances of being a part of the future power-brokers group, whether that’s five years from now or 15.  I say that last part because if there’s anything we’ve learned in the past 16 months, it’s this: money makes the world go round, football makes the money (and I’m not talking about something as mundane as income vs. expenses in individual programs), and that it is fluid.  Conferences will be open to expansion in the future just as they are today, so if we, say, put together a football feasibility committee in the spring, put it to a successful vote in 2012-13, then get ready for Game One in, for instance, September 2018, the door will still be open for us down the line.

Football is the only way Milwaukee can get conferences to look past Marquette and other non-football schools and see the Panthers.

This is what I do know.  Without football, you’re looking at men’s basketball, the third-best option in the city of its own sport, as the lone program to shoulder not only the rest, but the $8 million deficit the program is in.  With football, you’re sharing the load between two programs so if one has a couple down years, the program isn’t crippled.

We’re standing on one leg right now, people.  It’s about time we put the other foot down.

Part of this story is an excerpt of The Case for Football, my report on the athletics program and why it needs to get on the gridiron.  It’s a work in progress, but will be out sometime before basketball season commences.

Also, check back Monday for the beginning of our Schedule Breakdown series that will take a look at every Milwaukee men’s basketball opponent in 2011-12.

I have an offer for the owners of Twisted Fork

Twisted Fork is closing; I've got an idea for the new place.

Carol Deptolla of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is reporting that Twisted Fork, the restaurant on the corner of North, Farwell and Ivanhoe, will be closing down Sunday night and will re-open in October as a sports bar.

Personally, I loved the place.  They were expensive so I didn’t eat there often (how could I with the BBQ chicken sandwich across the street at Hooligan’s) but I loved the Ribeye, Cheese and Artichoke Dip, Shrimp Puttanesca and above all else, the Ivanhoe burger.  Tell me that cheese and artichoke dip, swiss cheese and bacon on top of a burger doesn’t make your mouth water, and you’re either lying or a vegetarian.  Or a vegan, whatever that is.

However, for one reason or another the format did not work for the owners, and news began sprinkling out that they were looking for a change.  It makes sense; the eclectic, moderately expensive yuppie restaurant/bar thing, as much as it works for the UWM community, is far too prevalent.  Oakland Trattoria, Harry’s, Henry’s, Cafe Hollander, and those are just a few on campus and I haven’t even approached North Avenue yet.  When you include the two main streets of the East Side, North and Brady, you’ve got a fairly long list of restaurants that serve the same purpose as the Twisted Fork.  Most of them are also easier on the wallet, which I’m sure isn’t a small reason for the failure of a wonderful restaurant with a fantastic menu.

Replay could look something like this. When I'm done with it, it'll also be Black and Gold.

Switching to a Sports Bar format is a great idea; while there are many sports fans on the East Side, there aren’t many places that are sports specific restaurants.  North Avenue is the favorite hangout of my group of friends, despite the fact that we live in West Allis, Bay View, St. Francis and Wauwatosa; it’s the college-aged community together on a strip, and the new Replay Sports Bar will fit very well with Hooligan’s, Landmark Lanes and the BBC.

The thing is, none of those places really screams UWM, and this is a place where I think Replay can gain an advantage – or any of the establishments down around North Avenue.  The fact of the matter is that with the Kenilworth Building, Riverview and Cambridge Commons, not only is North Avenue very much a part of UWM’s neighborhood, but by and large it can now be considered campus, like State Street is in Madison.  In fact, one might argue that North Avenue is our State Street.  Food establishments dot the way, but there’s not really a place that screams “Milwaukee Panthers” and really stakes claim to the university like State Street Brats and other places do with the Badgers.

A couple years ago, some students walked into the George Webb’s on Farwell across from Pizza Shuttle and found themselves pleasantly surprised to be looking at a wall of UWM; Ricky Franklin and Kaylan Anderson jerseys hung from the wall, other UWM-centric stuff was dotted around the place; however, it wasn’t really the place for it.  Like Ma Fisher’s, a 24-hour diner is not really the U-Rah-Rah place for that kind of stuff.  Replay Sports Bar most definitely is.

That is why I am offering a simple, no strings attached free service to the new Replay Sports Bar:

Me!

Look at my face. I'm dead serious, Replay.

I, Jimmy Lemke, will personally help you decorate the place with Milwaukee Panthers memorabilia.  I don’t just mean a jersey or two, like the Gasthaus.  I mean full-on Black and Gold, Milwaukee Panthers dream world.  Free of charge.

Of course, I can’t do it alone.  I don’t have nearly the amount of stuff to hand over to Replay to make it Panther Heaven.  I’ll be looking for help from Milwaukee Athletics, that has a ton of unused t-shirts and memorabilia sitting in cages at the Klotsche Center, as well as dozens of those awesome “Milwaukee” flags that were given out to season-ticket holders last season.  I won’t make the Athletic Department take the stuff over there, I’ll do that.  But there are a lot of walls over at the new Replay, and they all need some Panther flavor.

If I am to do this service for Replay Sports Bar, I only ask for a few concessions from the establishment:

Pounce owns Bucky

Fun with Microsoft Paint

No Marquette or Wisconsin influence of any kind. One of the things I hate most about driving down Locust is seeing the Marquette and Wisconsin logos on Tracks Tavern flags at the corner of Locust and Humboldt.  It boils my blood to know that this sports bar is all about two schools that have nothing to do with the neighborhood, yet there’s a perfectly good Division I university that operates just over the river.  I still have not stepped inside Tracks for this very reason; you might call it overreacting, I call it having respect for myself and the school I come from.  A lot of Tracks’ business comes from UWM students and alumni, and while most don’t embrace athletics unless we’re in the basketball tournament, they are still part of the UWM community.  The same garbage used to happen with the Gasthaus.  I used my influence as Sports Editor at the UWM Post several years ago to put an end to Gasthaus advertisements pumping up the Badger games on Saturdays.  This shit needs to end if UWM is ever going to have the hold over its community the way similar schools like Southern Illinois, Wichita State and Northern Iowa have over their people.  SIU Salukis don’t give two shits about the Illini.  Wichita State people laughed when the Kansas Jayhawks lost to UNI.  The UNI “Panther Nation” takes any chance it can to belittle the Iowa Hawkeyes and Iowa State Cyclones.  If UWM is to move forward, there has to be a culture change at the school and in the neighborhood, that what we have is good enough to get behind, and while we want to be better, being in a high-major conference is not requisite for having a devoted fan base.  Call me crazy, but I think it starts with Replay Sports Bar.  If they follow through on this, and refuse to be a Badger satellite, then places like this will snowball; one day down the road, when the Milwaukee Panthers fan base is large, Replay Sports Bar can claim to be the place that started it all.  They embraced it first, willed themselves into supporting the Milwaukee Panthers as the one and only college sports team for Replay Sports Bar, and that fan base will love the establishment for it.  The original Panther party zone.  No one has staked claim to it; it’s a title that is up for grabs.  Just because there’s no college football team in Milwaukee doesn’t mean they’ll lose business by not promoting Badger games either; being the Panther dream world says nothing about turning off the T.V. for Packer or Brewer games, or Bucks for that matter.  Just tell Bucky to screw off, he gets the same amount of T.V.’s as the Ohio State and Florida games.  I won’t hold them to the last part, but I would prefer that they don’t go out of their way to promote Badger games.

Replay needs Time Warner Cable for one reason: TWS 32

Time Warner Cable is a must. The NFL Network is on TWC now, as is Versus and all of the other stations that a Sports Bar needs like the MLB Network and *sigh* Big Ten Network.  You can get NFL Sunday Ticket, ESPN Full Court and ESPN Gameplan through the service as well, but the absolute reason that Replay Sports Bar needs Time Warner Cable is for one channel: 32.  Is it high-definition?  No.  But Time Warner Sports 32 is all local sports, all the time, and that’s what people are interested in.  The main reason, however, is that TWS32 airs Milwaukee Panthers sporting events, and my condition is that every live Panther game and most replays find their way onto a television at the Replay Sports Bar.  For live basketball games, most of their television sets should have the game locked down.  We want it so not only are Panther fans welcome, but they are catered to; there is no place where we are catered to, except for Harry’s.  But Harry’s isn’t a sports bar, it’s a high-class restaurant where you can’t get too loud because there are couples out for a nice dinner.

– A little nod to the website that decked the place out. After all, I’m not asking for payment.  I just want PantherU.com in some way mentioned in the place.  Personally, my hope is for a small, framed sheet of paper that says something simple, like “Replay Sports Bar beautified by PantherU.com.”  I don’t need anything super special, just a tip of the cap by the front door.

I wasn’t kidding when I said that I thought Replay could be the beginning of something special.  The culture here needs to change.  How do Tone Boyle and other Panther basketball players feel when they walk up Maryland to classes and see several Wisconsin flags hanging on balconies?  It’s an absolute joke.  Those aren’t UW alumni that live in those houses, they are students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee that have no respect for themselves and their alma mater.  There is no outlet for Milwaukee students and alumni to be Panthers; even the Gasthaus, which operates inside the UWM Union, serves Badger football fans more than the people in its own community.  It’s a crock of shit and frankly, I’ve had enough of that crap.  Replay Sports Bar can be the outlet for many Panther fans who have not had the place that not only welcomes them but outright embraces and caters to them.  I want to have that place, not only for myself but for all the other Panther fans who have to request their neighborhood sports bar to change the channel to the Panther game and get looked at quizzically by people around them.  This can be our place, and I know that I’m not the only one; two months away from the season, there are anywhere between 200 and 500 unique readers per day of PantherU, depending on whether I put out new posts or not.  I haven’t done a single thing to advertise besides post on the fan board, start a Facebook page and a Twitter account.  There are many people who are crazy about Milwaukee Athletics, and they need an outlet.  I think that Replay Sports Bar is that place, and I’m willing to volunteer my own personal time to make it that place.

I’ll even sweeten the pot a little bit.  If they allow me to go all out Black and Gold on the Replay Sports Bar with Panther memorabilia up the wazoo, I’ll go out of my way to push for at least one Rob Jeter Radio Show to take place inside Replay Sports Bar this upcoming season.

The ball is in your court, Replay Sports Bar.  You want my help?  All you need to do is ask.  jimmylemke@gmail.com.

Panther brethren show us how it’s done

This urban campus just got football.

I’m going to tell you the story of a university.  Long considered a commuter campus, the school lies on land-locked real estate just outside of downtown in an American major city.  The school of around 30,000 students has a real problem with parking for commuters, living space for residents, and a gaping hole where school spirit normally goes at traditional institutions.

Forget 1,000 students; this program struggles to get 1,000 fans total at men’s basketball games, its student section a mere shell because there just isn’t any support.  Students aren’t against basketball, but by the time the season rolls around, freshmen are unimpressed by the athletics program and initial interest is waned.

So, the university wants to change all of that.  They want to make athletics a point of pride in the university, bringing people in the school community together for real.  Students, forever, have clamored for football.  They never organize, but the constant murmur of dissent because the school isn’t a “real” or “traditional” university finally falls on expectant ears.  The university decides to pursue football.

The detractors are numerous.  This isn’t the right time, with the economy so poor.  The students will never go for I-AA football, and they’ll never pay for it.  There are two bigger, BCS conference schools in the state.  One gets the vast majority of support from people in the city, because it’s the state’s flagship school.  It’s only an hour and a half outside the city, an easy drive for just about anyone.  The other school has over 100 years of football history to fall back on, a dynamic athletics program with Final Four appearances and four football national titles.  These two teams aren’t the only football that fans can find in and around the city.  The university’s prospective athletic program would share the Dome downtown, just blocks from campus, with a successful NFL franchise.

You'd be surprised how close GSU and UWM are.

The support of the university has been lacking, and football has an uphill climb if it just wants to tread water.  They hire a man, famous for leading the NFL team, to push for football at the school.  He talks to alumni, he talks to the community, he gauges interest.  He finds that there is a lot of it; people want football at this school.  It’s a go.

Students buck the first trend; their elected student leaders vote unanimously to support an $85 increase to the athletics fee that accommodates football, the needed women’s sports, and a marching band because hey, it’s not college football without a marching band.  The school officially announces they will begin playing football in two years.  The skeptics are there again.  How will you pay for it?  Where will you practice?  You’re going to play in the Dome?  It’s far too large.  You don’t have support for men’s basketball, why would you expect so many more people to show up for the second level of college football, I-AA FCS?

The university hears the talk.  They even understand the possibilities, that they could begin an expensive football program in a cavernous dome in front of a handful of students, family and friends.  They go ahead anyway.  They hire an old ball coach who played for Vince Lombardi, who talks about God and family and working hard.  He assembles a program; dozens of football players step foot on campus a year in advance of the first game, redshirting the year so they can play four years of college football.

Their situation isn’t without advantages.  That Dome is just a few blocks from campus, and will be just fine for the program.  They have a large student population and alumni base in the city, and if they can win the hearts and minds, they’ve already won.  The university is in a football-crazy state, in a football-crazy region.

GSU football kicked off with a bang.

On September 2nd, 2010, the Georgia State University Panthers took the field for the first time.  The Georgia Dome seats over 71,000, making it immediately the largest stadium in Division I’s Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as I-AA.  The university expects 15,000 to 20,000 people for the first game, with a drop-off to around seven or eight thousand for the rest of the season.  To get as close to a guarantee victory as possible, GSU schedules Shorter College, an NAIA school that is populated by guys who weren’t even stars on their high school teams.  Scheduling that game is a risk; casual football fans could care less about NAIA teams, and they may stay away because of it.

GSU plans to only have the lower bowl open for the first game.  The 20,000 they expect will fit, if a bit snug, in the first level.  It becomes apparent, however, in the days leading up to game time that they will need more than the lower bowl.  They decide to open seating in the second level, the middle section between the field level and the gargantuan top-level.

It’s a good idea.  Fans who decide to walk up to the stadium for tickets find themselves waiting for 40 minutes.  The student section fills minutes after they open the doors, overflowing with students who have long begged for a reason to give a crap about their alma mater.

When it’s all said and done, over 30,000 fans witness the first game in Georgia State football history.  The game outdraws the Atlanta Braves by 5,000.  Those are the same Braves that are leading the NL East right now, like they have done over a dozen times in the past two decades.  On September 2nd, the baseball team that won’t play second fiddle for the Philadelphia Phillies is doing just that for the Georgia State Panthers.

UGA will always be king.  The Panthers aren’t claiming to take them over.  Georgia Tech will always own Atlanta.  The Panthers will want to change that, but not today.  For now, just being able to cut their little, 30,000 person slice is good enough.

It was, quite possibly, the biggest day in the history of Georgia State University.  It was the day that 30,000 people were unwavered by the NAIA opponent, the I-AA status, or the myriad of other football options in and around the city.  They wore GSU Blue, and they were damn proud to do so.

“[GSU Athletic Director Cheryl] Levick said she looked into the expectant eyes of her players and ‘felt chills.’ And it wasn’t, she noted, just the players. Walking the concourse, she kept being stopped by gray-haired alums who wanted to say thanks.” Mark Bradley, Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“My wife and I (both graduates) were beaming with pride all night long as if our kids had just finished law school. While watching this back-cracking unfold, I took glances at my three kids, who are all under 13 years old. I kept thinking to myself that they will always have GSU in mind because this was their first college football game. It wasn’t in Athens, at Bobby Dodd, or even my old stomping grounds in Knoxville; it was to our alma mater’s first college football game ever. They will remember this when it’s time for them to make a decision of what school they want to attend. I have a feeling that they won’t have to be taken here kicking and screaming like so many others have years ago because this will finally be a school of first-choice; not a place of last resort.” Poster Simon Phoenix, PantherTalk.com forum.

“‘I’ve been waiting for this for, like, ever,’ said Nicole Gaddy, who is a … freshman.” Ken Sugiura, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Also from Sugiura’s article: ‘”I’m just thrilled that Georgia State students are getting to experience this,” said Peggy Gallagher, a professor and chair of the department of educational psychology and special education. “Everyone’s walking around with a smile on their face.”‘

Maybe the best quote was also the shortest. “‘I love Georgia State football!’ a fan sitting near the end zone screamed, throwing his arms in the air.” Associated Press

So many people said it couldn’t be done, and right there is proof.  Proof that not only they can do it, but we can too.

Look, you can search all over the country and not find a university that is closer to UWM than GSU.  Our campus is the second-most cramped campus in the country – Georgia State is the first.  GSU has spent its entire history as a commuter school, only recently warranting the residents to buck that stigma.  Sound familiar?  GSU has to deal with fans of the state flagship, UGA, getting everything they don’t, and then fighting within their own city against a program with a 118-year head start in football.

Speaking of football, GSU is the third-best option for football in Atlanta, fourth if you consider UGA football.  In Milwaukee, there’s nothing.  It’s a completely untapped market.

The main difference between GSU’s situation and ours (and really it’s the only hiccup) is they had the Georgia Dome ready-made.  We don’t have a facility that we can move into right off campus; the distance from the GSU campus to the Georgia Dome is literally the distance from the UWM Union to North Avenue.

While I won’t get into it too much (holy crap it’s 6 a.m. and I need to sleep), here are some stadiums built for I-AA FCS programs in the last 15 years.  Norfolk State’s stadium is the best example.  I left out some smaller stadiums; a complete list will come out when I have the full report ready (oh yeah, it’s coming).

Alex G. Spanos Stadium, Cal Poly: 22,000 seats, $19.405 million

Alfond Stadium, Maine: 10,000; $7.5 million

Finley Stadium, Chattanooga (FCS Championship home): 20,688; $28.5 million

William Price Stadium, Norfolk State: 30,000; $12.2 million

Here are a couple videos I’ll leave you with: