By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published May 04, 2010 at 9:04 AM

I never ever admit that I'm wrong when I've written a column.

The way I look at it is that I write my opinion. I'm entitled to my opinion and those people who disagree with me (or agree with me, for that matter) are entitled to their opinion. That's what makes the world go round. So I stand fast, sometimes under a barrage of criticism.

Oh, I may retract a bad fact or something, but as for a total 180, doesn't happen.

Well, as somebody once said, there's a first time for everything.

Last week I used the occasion of the mysterious disappearance of Athletic Director George Koonce to suggest that it might be a good thing to eliminate intercollegiate athletics at UWM and focus instead on building a world class academic institution.

Today, I admit I was wrong.

First, let me make sure everyone understands what has NOT changed my mind. We'll get to the game changer a little later.

Lots of readers posted Talkbacks. For those who used any of the following words or phrases, I want to make it perfectly clear that you had no influence on my change of my mind: hack; moron; full of crap; dude; garbage; will never read again; semi comatose; asinine; Eugene Kane; unreadable; stupid; you just say that to generate comments.

Those kinds of reactions are cruel, false, and meaningless and do nothing to advance quality of the debate of the issue. 

Next is a group of people who wrote with whom I disagree. People say that athletics at UWM raises the profile of the university, increases alumni donations, builds morale and attracts students. I believe that there is almost no evidence to support any of those theories. In a perfect world, those are benefits from athletic programs. But UWM sports do not draw much in the way of attraction, so those kinds of benefits are at best questionable in the case of the Panthers.

So much for the comments that have not changed my mind.

What did make me change my mind was posted by a non-athletic staff member from UWM. Here's a portion of what he or she wrote

"Dave ... the University that provides an education opportunity for more students than any other school in the state of Wisconsin (more than Madison for three straight years) deserves to have a 'home team' to root for."

That's the one that did it. UWM is a university that provides an opportunity for many students who might otherwise be shut out of a college education. Many of their students are poor and come from so-called disadvantaged families.

For them, as for all students, the college experience should be more than just going to classes, struggling to find money for an education and finding a place to drink beer on weekends. It should also include the opportunity to support and cheer for a team.

It really doesn't make a whole lot of difference whether your team is good or bad. College is about blind loyalty, going to a game with other students, making a fool of yourself with painted faces, school colors and holding up your index finger every time there's a camera pointed your way. It's about dancing in the stands when the band plays and making the choke sign when the referee makes a bad call.

In large measure it's about a sense of belonging.

When last week I wrote what turned out to be a short-sighted column, I forgot or ignored all those things. All I looked at was the failure and potential waste of money that was UWM athletics. I didn't look at the success and potential for improving the college experience.

To all those students and alumni who I ignored, I'm sorry.

And to the non-athletic staffer from UWM who wrote, thank you.

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.