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In Sports

Can Barry help Bucky Badger bring baseball back to Madison?


Make no mistake; Barry Alvarez is a baseball fan.

Growing up in western Pennsylvania, the University of Wisconsin Athletic Director was an avid fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates and he has sung "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field.

So, it was not a total surprise when he told a Madison television station that he would love to see baseball back at the UW.

Alvarez's predecessor, Pat Richter, eliminated the sport in 1991 while trying to cut millions of dollars of red ink from the athletic department ledger. Richter, himself a former Badgers star in football, basketball, and baseball, has said it was one of the hardest decisions he had to make. Many on campus are still mad at him for it, even though the program returned to national prominence during his watch.

UW is the only Big Ten school that doesn't have baseball. And while Alvarez isn't known to do anything half-heartedly, it is premature to think the sport can magically reappear after 17 years.

Several major roadblocks stand in the way, with funding heading the list. There is currently no on-campus facility for a UW baseball team to use for practice or games, but the Madison Mallards - an independent team in the short-season Northwoods League - play at Warner Park, six miles northwest of campus.

The second issue standing in the way is Title IX. Should Wisconsin want to bring back baseball, the school would have to add a sport (or sports) that would provide an equal amount of scholarships for women. According to a recent Wisconsin State Journal article, the median Big Ten roster size for baseball is 37.

In order to bring baseball back at the median level, Alvarez must find a way to add 37 women's scholarships to bring the school back into compliance with Title IX, a process much easier said than done.

Hockey and softball are two of the more prominent women's sports added to the UW program in the last 10 years, and those were a result of a growing demand, compliance, and donors.

Before Wisconsin can - or will - even think about bringing back baseball, somebody needs to step forward with a big enough donation to build a field and provide some operating capital for the first few years.

The list of major-league players with UW ties is long, but also very dated. Lance Painter, Paul Quantrill, and Rodney Meyers are the most recent Badger alums to play in the bigs. Former Brewers manager Harvey Kuenn, arguably the best-known former Badger player, died in 1988.

There is one person, however, with deep enough pockets and a deep love for the game who could get this project up and running. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig graduated from Wisconsin in 1956. While a student, he roomed with Sen. Herb Kohl, who also owns the Milwaukee Bucks.

Kohl helped his alma mater move into the 21st Century when he donated the money to build the school a new basketball arena. Kohl's $25-million contribution is still the largest single private donation in University history, and the Kohl Center - opened in 1998 - is now the home of a nationally-acclaimed men's basketball team, a rising women's program, and national champion men's and women's hockey teams.

Selig took a lot of heat around these parts when he sold the Brewers. Critics said that he fleeced taxpayers for a new stadium only to make a pretty profit when he sold the team to Mark Attanasio in 2005.

If he were to give some money back in the form of a donation, it could go a long way toward bringing back the sport he used to skip class to watch in the 1950s. It could also generate some much-needed goodwill and spark other donors to open their hearts and checkbooks.

Returning baseball to UW could be a win-win situation, but it won't happen without an influx of money. If Alvarez truly wants to see it happen, he's going to have to make some calls and twist some arms.

Talkbacks

OMCreader | June 2, 2006 at 1:16 p.m. (report)

Jeremy said: Jack, i couldnt agree less. Clearly Mark Attanasio should invest some money into the brewers pitching staff. that would have alot more immediate impact on the game of baseball in the state of wisconsin.

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OMCreader | June 2, 2006 at 10:37 a.m. (report)

UWM Fan said: Why add another Division 1 baseball team in Wisconsin? Support the great one we already have right here in Milwaukee -- the UWM Panthers. Senior Mike Goetz led the NATION in hitting, batting .493 for the season, which was almost 25 points higher than anyone else.

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OMCreader | June 2, 2006 at 9:01 a.m. (report)

Jason said: Great article ... I hope this process moves forward. It is embarassing that Wisconsin is the only Big 10 school without a baseball team. With D3 baseball going strong in WI, I think a Badger program could be very successful. I hope Alvarez really does push this issue and trys to make something happen soon.

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OMCreader | May 30, 2006 at 3:53 p.m. (report)

Jack said: Maybe the Brewers should help invest in a baseball facility for the Badgers. It would be a good investment for the game of baseball in the state of Wisconsin. It would also be a great PR move for Mark Attanasio. I would love to see the Badgers have a baseball team again.

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