By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published Mar 25, 2014 at 4:31 PM Photography: David Bernacchi

You know how they say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

Well, this old dog has just learned a new trick, thanks to a letter from a friend that was the proverbial slap upside my head.

The new trick is about one of my favorite whipping boys, the athletic program (especially the men’s basketball program) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

It’s no secret that I have lobbied for years for UWM to do away with an athletic program that nobody seems to care about, except for the athletes and their families. Take those resources, I said, and put them into the efforts to make UWM a vital research facility and build a freshwater studies program that will lead the world to adequate water.

My most recent salvo was that I wrote wondering if UWM fans would go to Buffalo to watch the team in its first round NCAA tournament game.

Then came the lightning bolt in the form of a letter from a close friend, Todd Robert Murphy, a man I’ve known and respected for over a quarter of a century. I helped create the huge persona he became and enabled him to create a wildly successful public relations business (with an emphasis on public).

I’m not going to publish Murphy’s entire letter. He doesn’t know the meaning of writing restraint. And on many an occasion words slip past his lips that best not be used in civilized company.

But here are parts of the letter that made the biggest impression:

"I read your column on Milwaukee's NCAA bid. Why not write the real reason the stands aren't filled with alumni is because they have the world's worst alumni association. I have multiple degrees from UWM and never once was solicited for a contribution.

"Get behind it, embrace it, celebrate it. Guys like you and me need to get away from this sobbing bull crap and the alumni association needs to get its act together.

"I would certainly do more if the alumni association would remind me, write me, or even call and ask for money, but they don't. Trust me, if I were a Marquette grad I would have been called and given far more money by now than MKE has received from me. Someone needs to take the UWM alumni association turn it upside down and shake it up, plus a few should be fired for their abysmal performance to date. They suck in terms of building school pride.

"UWM may not make it to round two, but they made it to the NCAA again. That's a big deal for a school that people ignore and writers fail to write positively about."

OK, Murph. You and the rest of the UWM family win. I cry "uncle." Dropping sports would be next to impossible. So, what I’m going to do is try to stimulate the conversation with the kind of things that will make the basketball program a force to be reckoned with.

Here we go:

  1. Change your name to Milwaukee University. I don’t know how tough this will be since the UW system is like Vladimir Putin and his pals. They don’t particularly like change and they really don’t like big change. But that "UW" before the "M" acts as a barrier to Panther pride. It’s good enough for Memphis, Louisville, Oklahoma and Pittsburgh. I like the sound of Milwaukee University. Hell, the television announcers already call it Milwaukee. Get your lobbyists to work on this one right away.

  2. Get real aggressive with the alumni and feature the basketball team in your pitch to them. There are almost 75,000 alumni just in the five county area around the university.There are almost 100,000 in the state. That’s a lot of potential.

    I went to the Alumni Association website over the weekend. They featured an after-work gathering with cocktails, appetizers and bocce ball, a career fair for the College of Health Sciences and an announcement for Panther Pride Days, where faculty and staff were encouraged to wear black and gold. If that sounds like high school you’ve probably got a pretty good handle on how sophisticated that operation is.

  3. Get an on-campus facility built. It doesn’t have to be a palace. A nice facility with somewhere between 8,000 and 12,000 seats would be great. Make it attractive enough so that coaches can show it to potential recruits.

    Showing them either the Klotsche Center or the decrepit US Cellular Arena is not much of a lure. Once again, get the lobbyists to work on this. Increase student fees by $20 per student per semester or something like that to pay for it. Or get the new CEO of Microsoft to donate and put his name on it.

    Get your charismatic chancellor, Mike Lovell, to sit with Harris Turer, heir to the Master Lock fortune and owner of the Milwaukee Admirals. How about The Turer Center on campus? Or let him honor his grandfather and call it the Soref Center.

  4. Money, money, money. Rob Jeter and his staff need money. They need a big recruiting budget. They need to be first-class when they are out. They are going after kids who have been wined, dined and blinged since they were in grade school. If you want to get first-class players, you have to have a first-class recruiting program.

  5. Hire somebody or some firm to market this thing. They need to create a brand that has value. They need to create excitement, a climate where people can hardly wait for the college basketball season to begin.

    There are three targets, alumni, students and the city. This is not a job for academics or UWM staff. This is a job for professionals. It’s going to cost money but I bet my friend Todd Robert might even do it for nothing (wait till he reads that).

There you have it. As they say in the NFL "Upon further review …" I’ve change my mind. Now, let’s get to work on this. Words don’t matter. Deeds matter.

Dave Begel Contributing Writer

With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.