By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published Apr 27, 2010 at 3:15 PM

So, George Koonce has sprinted away from the UWM athletic department in the dead of night with nary a word of apology or farewell. The whole thing looks and smells bad both for Koonce and for UWM.

But it has at least caused a minor eruption in my mind and the creation of what I think is an absolutely wonderful idea.

Why doesn't the entire UWM athletic program follow Koonce and pull a disappearing act.

You heard right. Why don't we eliminate all athletic programs at UWM. Or at the very least, let's have a rational discussion about it.

UWM has six men's sports: basketball, baseball, soccer, track and field, swimming and diving, and cross country. There are seven women's sports: basketball, soccer, swimming and diving, track and field, tennis and volleyball.

The annual budget for the athletic programs is around $10 million. There is a drop in the bucket of private money but almost all of it is public money.

And my question is whether or not there are better, much better, ways to spend that $10 million of tax dollars than on athletic programs followed only by athletes, their families and an occasional student who aimlessly wanders next to the field of play on his way to the library or the student union.

I think if you were to count the number of students who enroll at UWM because of athletics -- either athletes or fans -- you may need both hands and one foot. Sports are not a draw at UWM. I don't have anything against the athletic department or the athletes, but at some point we have to ask why we are spending that money. If the answer is that we've always done it, that's not good enough anymore.

We need to hear a real, proven reason why an athletic department is crucial to the mission of UWM. The argument that it raises the profile of the university doesn't hold water. As far as fun for students, you can accomplish that with a good intramural program. If there is no real reason, let's cut bait and go fishing.

I understand that Chancellor Carlos Santiago has this fantasy about equality with his big brother in Madison and that he thinks sports is part of that fanciful development plan. He's wrong, at least as far as sports is concerned.

None of the sports at UWM comes close to making money. I don't know this for sure, but I'd bet the wrestling program at Madison makes more money than the basketball program at UWM. These university athletic programs are two different worlds, and never the twain shall meet, or even come close.

But that $10 million could go a long way toward something that might be possible for UWM. It has a chance to become an outstanding academic institution. It could use the money to increase the number of graduate programs.

And I'm exceedingly intrigued by this idea of UWM creating an international Freshwater Studies Institute. With so much of this planet covered by and fed by water, it seems that there is a real opportunity for UWM here.

Let's use that $10 million as seed money to go out and hire a couple of the world's biggest experts in freshwater studies to headline this program and hire the world's best lobbyists to hustle the Board of Regents to get the funding and permission and all the other stuff needed to get this thing up and running.

I realize that $10 million doesn't seem like that big a chunk of money in this world where we toss the word "billion" around like Cheerios pouring into a bowl in the morning. But it's still enough so that it shouldn't be wasted. Whatever we spend it on should be worth it.

And I'm sorry to say, I don't think the UWM athletic program, with or without George Koonce, is.

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.