What’s Realistic for Milwaukee Panthers?May 4, 2012
In full disclosure, Sports32 is a partner of Milwaukee Panthers Athletics. Rather than disqualify me from having an opinion, I think it just shows that I respect and care for their program. I would suggest the following:
NEW AD– I’d hire from within just to calm the waters. The George Koonce and Rick Costello fiasco’s can only be forgotten with leadership that knows the unique culture, people and issues. By the way, Bud Haidet’s reputation is only getting better in retirement. He did a lot right from 1988 until 2009.
MEN’S BASKETBALL– Nobody knows as well as Rob Jeter how hard it is to win as Milwaukee Panthers men’s basketball coach. Maybe Bruce Pearl’s Sweet 16 run in 2005 and Jeter’s second round advancement in 2006 are exceptions. But, the fact is, that was six years ago. From a business and program flagship standpoint, you need to be in the NCAA tournament more often than that. I’m not saying every year, you just need to get there every few years. Not the NIT or whatever the other tournaments are called. The NCAA.
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL– Sandy Botham got the Panthers to the NCAA tournament but then the program seemed to retreat. With Botham’s passion now directed toward alumni relations, the next coach has to build it back up. This is a key hire because crowds have gotten too small.
FOOTBALL– UWM dropped it in 1974 for a reason. It’s expensive. This isn’t about an inferiority complex with Madison. Stop trying to be Madison. Be Milwaukee and proud of it. Who’s going to pay for football to come back? The state isn’t. The boosters you have are already being generous. It would be nice, but I would humbly suggest to improve what you’re already doing before even seriously considering football. Which leads us to…
BASEBALL– The Milwaukee Panthers are the only Division I college baseball program in the state. How many people know that? Is it treated like that? If so, it wouldn’t play its games at Henry Aaron Field. It’s a great high school facility but it’s not up to par for a Division 1 college program. It’s not feasible from a scheduling standpoint to play all of the home games at Miller Park, but I would try to add more while pursuing a new ballpark. Again, where is the money going to come for that? I fully realize that baseball does not currently produce the revenue that men’s basketball does and Wisconsin spring weather makes it difficult to play with the big boys in the south. But I don’t think this unique niche has been maximized. There’s a window of opportunity to capitalize on Wisconsin being the only Big Ten school without baseball.
MEN’S SOCCER– Dan Harris built a foundation from 1973 to 1983. The legendary Bob Gansler took it to the next level from 1984 until 1988. Brian Tompkins did a masterful job from 1989 until 1996. And Louis Bennett skillfully kept it going from 1996 until 2005 before leaving for Marquette. The point is, the great tradition is there. You can win in soccer with the Milwaukee Panthers. Engelmann Field is an on-campus facility that is certainly an advantage. The program is down now because of the ugly Chris Whalley mess. The right person can lift it back up. By the way, there must be a way to celebrate that rich history that includes great players like Jimmy Banks and Tony Sanneh more.
WOMEN’S VOLLEYBALL– Susie Johnson guided the Panthers into the NCAA tournament last fall, their third appearance in the last five years. Whatever she is doing is working, so make sure she has the resources she needs so stay successful.
ON-CAMPUS ARENA– The Horizon League has a 5,000 seat minimum for men’s basketball. I would try to expand the Klotsche Center slightly or have the league look into waiving that rule. Simply put, the Panthers don’t draw well enough to justify a new arena. They couldn’t even sell out the U.S Cellular Arena when they finally got to host Marquette. I know that it’s hard for students to get off-campus and downtown but it’s hard to say they need a new arena in these challenging economic times.
HORIZON LEAGUE– Butler’s departure is both a blessing and a curse for the Panthers. It opens the door for more success but many fans around the country could not name one school left in the Horizon League. The conference must work hard to effectively replace Butler or Milwaukee should keep its options open.
UWM has been Division I for 20 years. I want them to stay there and thrive, maximizing what they do well and using common sense about the rest. Just my opinion but it comes from someone who has covered Milwaukee Panthers athletics for 25 years and wishes it well.