Here's what I think happened ...
George Koonce and some of his buddies went out for happy hour. They started to think they were bulletproof. Over pretzels and peanuts, somebody came up with this idea. Everybody thought it was really great. They clapped and then they decided to tell people how wonderful and smart they were.
I can't think of any other possible way that the people at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Koonce, the school's athletic director, could possibly come up with this idea to build a sports arena on the campus which, as you may or may not know, is located in the most densely populated area of the city.
There is a long list of reasons that makes this one of the stupidest ideas since I thought about growing a pony tail. I mean stupid.
Before we even get to the specifics of this thing, let's talk about the overarching considerations.
This is UWM we are talking about. This is a school with an enrollment north of 30,000 and a student support body somewhere south of a couple of hundred. They have cheerleaders and a dance team and a dozen or so fans and that's about it.
The phrase "school spirit" and "UWM" never appear in the same sentence unless the word "no" is in there, as well. As in "no school spirit." There was a brief period several years ago when an over-the-top promoter of a coach, Bruce Pearl, put together a once-in-a-lifetime team and there was actually some excitement about UWM basketball. But Pearl rode off to Tennessee and things settled back into their normal somnambulant state.
Nobody cares very much about UWM basketball. The players and coaches and athletic department care. But the students don't. The faculty doesn't. The clerks at the bookstore don't. The citizens of Milwaukee don't. I'm sorry. It's not that nobody cares very much about UWM basketball. It's that hardly anybody cares about UWM basketball.
They say that the UWM students can't get Downtown to watch the games at the U.S. Cellular Arena. Stop into the bars on Water Street on Friday or Saturday night and it's obvious that kids don't have any problems getting Downtown. And it's not economics. Tickets for students are free. Free.
Right now The Panthers average about 3,000 fans a game. Undoubtedly, some of them are sports fans from around the area who are looking for a sporting event to go see that doesn't cost the price of a good used car to get in. Now, do you think any of those people are going to fight the incredible East Side traffic / parking snarl to go to a game? Doubtful.
None of what I'm saying should be construed as anti-UWM. It's a good college with some great programs. It's one of only two doctoral colleges in the state system. It's got an aggressive mission to interact with the Milwaukee community. It may lead the city to become a world center for water research and development.
But it's not a sports school. Not by a long shot. Building an arena on campus for UWM is kind of like buying guitar lessons for Eric Clapton. Absolutely useless.
There is a lot of underground conversation about Koonce, a former Green Bay Packer and clearly an ambitious young man. The speculation is that he's looking to move on to a much better job and building an arena on campus is a big attention grabber on his resume. I don't know whether that's true or not, but it's certainly an idea worth consideration.
UWM has a 5,000-seat facility on campus called the Klotsche Center. Is it a big-time arena? Of course not. But this isn't a big-time basketball program either. This gets slightly more attention than intramural athletics, but not much more.
Rob Jeter, their coach, is a very nice guy and a good basketball coach. But nobody stands up and cheers when Jeter walks into a room. When Bruce Pearl used to walk into a room you checked to see if hurricane chasers were following him. The excitement is gone from the Panthers.
One more thing. They say they will build this thing without tax dollars and they are going to go to supporters to get the dough.
People with money in this community are getting hit every day by people who need their support. I can only think of a million things that they should be spending money on before it's an arena for UWM. Things like music groups, artists, theater companies, shelter for the homeless, help for battered women, retraining for unemployed workers ... on and on. You can even throw in a new arena Downtown for the Milwaukee Bucks. You get the point.
So, for those of you, including George Koonce, who think this is a good idea, here's the message:
You are cut off! Step away from the bar! No more booze! Take this phone number. It's a good 12-step program. Your days of being the friendly neighborhood drunk are now officially over.
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 OnMilwaukee.com 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.