The WIAA vs. the GOP

One of my favorite UW–Madison classes was the Olympic history class taught by Prof. Alfred Senn, who said at the beginning and throughout the course that to believe that sports and politics were ever separate or could ever be separated was futile.

Senn’s valuable cynicism comes to mind because of what the Wisconsin Sports Network reported:

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) has started a petition against a recent Wisconsin legislative proposal that would allow students from private schools, virtual schools, and home-schooled students to participate on sports teams of public schools in their district.

WisSports.net reports the language in the 2015–17 state budget thusly:

29.  Participation in Athletics and Extra-Curricular Activities.  Require a school board to permit a pupil who resides in the school district to participate in interscholastic athletics or extracurricular activities on the same basis and to the same extent as pupils enrolled in the district, if the pupil is enrolled in one of the following:  (a) a home-based private educational program; (b) a private school located in the district; (c) an independent “2r” charter school located in the district; or (d) a virtual school.  Provide that a pupil who is enrolled in a home-based private educational program and is determined by the public school or school board to be ineligible to participate in interscholastic athletics because of inadequate academic performance would be considered ineligible to participate.  Specify that a pupil attending a private school or an independent “2r” charter school could only participate in a sport that the private school or charter school does not offer.

Provide that a school district could not be a member of an athletic association unless the association required member school districts to permit home-based, private, charter, and virtual charter pupils to participate in athletic activities in the district.

Provide that a school board may charge participation fees to a non-public pupil who participates in interscholastic athletics or extracurricular activities, including fees for uniforms, equipment, and musical instruments, on the same basis and to the same extent as these fees are charged to pupils enrolled in the district.

For the state education establishment, which certainly includes the WIAA, to expect any sympathy from the state GOP seems as likely to happen as the Brewers’ winning the World Series this year. On the other hand, if the majority party in the Legislature doesn’t like the WIAA, the Legislature has the ability to wipe the WIAA out of existence by legislating that the state Department of Public Instruction be responsible, to borrow from the WIAA Constitution, “To organize, develop, direct, and control an interscholastic athletic program” for state schools. (That would certainly make superintendent of public instruction elections much more interesting, and maybe it would compel Wisconsin conservatives to get behind candidates with a better view of what our schools should be than the current superintendent of public instruction and his predecessors going back as far as memory. If indeed school sports are an extension of the classroom, shouldn’t DPI regulate school sports?)

There are numerous reasons why parents might not want their children to attend the local public school. Some schools, frankly, aren’t very good. (Read the School Report Cards.) There are some good school districts with bad teachers (largely due to the evil teacher union), and there are some school districts with poor administrators. If it’s correct that everyone learns differently, then it stands to reason that some children don’t learn in the local public school environment as well as they are capable of learning. Public school choice is great, unless your family lacks the means to get a child from home to school. Some students are bullied, and some schools clearly do little about bullying.

There are obvious reasons as well why non-students like high school sports. Games at the local YMCA don’t attract thousands of fans. Nor do the events of any non-school-based athletic club. For hundreds of small Wisconsin towns, the local high school is the source of that community’s prominence, and a big part of that is high school sports.

Independent of whether the proposal should become law (and apparently the state of Washington allows this), or be included in the 2015–17 state budget, the WIAA’s statement is full of not-entirely-truths. Let’s peruse and parse:

Please, keep in mind that the “WIAA” is a voluntary membership of public and non-public schools that have joined together to create and provide programming opportunities for the students in their school. To have the state government limit or prohibit membership in the WIAA — unless legislative mandates are followed­ — is an alarming precedent and an unacceptable over-reach in an attempt to control a voluntary, private and non-profit organization. To be clear, as a private entity, the WIAA receives no funding from taxpayer dollars.

There are two enormously disingenuous statements in this paragraph. The first is that WIAA membership is voluntary. It is voluntary unless your school district wants to (1) host high school sports and (2) have any WIAA-member high school as an opponent. WIAA membership is as voluntary as the voluntary contributions to the UW Athletic Department to keep your football season tickets.

The even more disingenuous statement is that the WIAA “receives no funding from taxpayer dollars.” Where do you suppose WIAA-membership dues came from — trees? (I used the past tense because the WIAA Board of Control voted April 21 to suspend member dues for two years to “further disconnect the organization from the indirect use of public tax dollars.” Interesting timing, isn’t it?)

Most high school sports are played in high schools whose construction was paid for, and whose maintenance is paid for, by taxpayers. While sports and school booster clubs contribute some funding, high school (and where they exist, WIAA middle school) coaches’ salaries and sports equipment are paid for by the school district, which means those salaries are paid for by taxpayers too. So are officials’ payments for games. And, of course, public schools are supported by taxpayers whose children may not go to public schools. (That is something liberals could not care less about.)

An overlooked aspect of this bill that should not be discarded is the divisiveness that is derived from the displacement of students who are actually full-time students and their school. The proposal marginalizes the commitment and opportunities for students enrolled in their school to represent their school.

Small schools traditionally have been concerned that opening the door to non-students for participation in its sports programs would accelerate the loss of enrollment and consequently, state aid.

The dropping percentage of student involvement in high school sports belies that statement. (For a variety of reasons, including student laziness and preference to do something other than compete in sports, such as compete on the XBox.) That statement also parrots the education establishment’s perspective that parents have no right to send their children to a non-public school.

High schools across the state are dropping not necessarily sports, but teams (going from, say, a varsity, junior varsity and freshman team to just varsity and JV) not due to the evil Republicans, but due to dropping enrollment. (Unless decreasing family sizes are somehow the GOP’s fault.) That is the same reason for the increase in the number of cooperative programs, sports with two or more schools’ students on the same team. (Including co-ops that include public and private high schools, such as Wautoma and Faith Christian in football.) Somehow that’s not divisive, but the GOP proposal is divisive. The only roster size rules that exist are for varsity games.

The membership recently addressed competitive equity concerns among public and private schools, and it determined — as it has done consistently — to treat all segments of the membership uniformly.

Well, that’s one way to put it. This refers to the WIAA’s votes on proposals to address competitive equity complaints from small public schools that similar-size private schools that can draw from much larger population areas were competing in the same state-tournament division. That would include, for instance, Whitefish Bay Dominican, which won four consecutive state boys basketball championships competing against non-metro-area schools Colfax, Cuba City, Auburndale, Brillion, Blair–Taylor and Mineral Point. (Plus one similar Catholic school, Eau Claire Regis.) WIAA membership rejected (1) increasing private-school enrollment for postseason purposes, as Illinois does; (2) reducing public-school enrollment by 40 percent of the percentage of students getting free- and reduced-price lunches, as Minnesota does; or (3) pushing teams, public or private, that get to state a lot upward an enrollment class. That could be a sign of the difficulty in finding a good solution for the small schools’ complaints; it could also be a sign that WIAA members don’t care about small public schools.

It is certainly true that policy added to the state budget late in the budgeting process (the fiscal year and budget cycle ends June 30) is an invitation for demonstrations of the Law of Unintended Consequences. It is also true that the WIAA’s institutional arrogance and Democratic-leaning interest groups’ knee-jerk opposition to non-public schools (and refusal to admit that some of Wisconsin’s public schools are not serving their children well) has led Wisconsin to this point. The author of this proposal is reportedly state Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R–Fond du Lac), who should get a call from WIAA leadership soon.

 

Soccergate

The indictment of several leaders of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, the worldwide soccer governing body, is certainly unprecedented. It’s hard to imagine duplicating this elsewhere in sports beyond the Olympic movement.

USA Today reports:

The Justice Department’s corruption inquiry into organized soccer has deep roots in the USA. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Wednesday that suspects in the $150 million bribery scheme met in this country often to plan their illicit activities and used U.S. banking institutions and domestic wire transfers to distribute giant bribe payments.

Describing the alleged wrongdoing as “rampant, systemic,” Lynch said the actions spanned two generations of soccer officials abroad and in the USA who “abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.”

“They planned to profit from their scheme, in large part, through promotional efforts directed at the growing U.S. market for soccer,” Lynch said.

The attorney general, a month into her term as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, specifically highlighted the operation of the U.S.-based Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, or CONCACAF, a powerful subsidiary of soccer’s international governing body FIFA, whose member countries include the USA. The group’s top leaders, according to court documents, played major roles in soliciting and accepting bribes related to the selection of host nations for the 1998 and 2010 World Cup tournaments.

What might as well be called Soccergate, or Soccerghazi, proves that the difference between fiction and real life is that fiction has to make sense. Sam Vecenie chronicles several of the indicted, with one major exception …

1. Chuck Blazer

Title: Formerly — General Secretary of CONCACAF, member of FIFA executive committee. Currently — FBI informant, lover of cats.

Story: Blazer might be one of the most strangely interesting human beings on Earth. First and foremost, the big, bearded gentle giant has been at the center of the explosion in the popularity of soccer in the United States. He was instrumental in bringing the World Cup to America in 1994 and has been very important in the television deals that have brought the sport into a wider focus across the country.

But then there’s the seedier side to his deeds, such as the fact that he has plead guilty to racketeering conspiracy, money-laundering conspiracy and income-tax evasion, among other things. These charges led to his employ as an FBI informant. Also, did I mention that he had a $6,000-a-month apartment just for his many cats? Well, that’s also a thing (according to the New York Daily News).

It’s an unexpected end for Blazer, who operated with high-flying impunity for decades, inhabiting a world of private jets, famous friends, secret island getaways, offshore bank accounts and two Trump Tower apartments with sweeping views of Central Park and the crenellations of The Plaza hotel.

CONCACAF’s offices took up the entire 17th floor, but Blazer often worked from two apartments where he lived on the 49th floor in $18,000-per-month digs for himself and an adjoining $6,000 retreat largely for his unruly cats, according to a source.

According to that article, Blazer also had a “fleet” of mobility scooters, had a Hummer to use in Manhattan (WHY?!), and didn’t pay his taxes for about a decade. Basically, he might be the most strange yet essential sporting official in all of the world.

2. Nicolas Leoz

Title: Formerly — President of the Paraguayan football association, President of [the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol], member of FIFA executive committee

Story: Leoz is one of the double-digit executive committee members to have been implicated in corruption since voting on the location of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. He resigned his position on the ExCo days before a ruling was to come down on World Cup kickbacks, citing health reasons at 84-years-old. Between this and the ISL investigation where he was thought to have taken over $700,000 in bribes, it’s pretty clear that he was never exactly on the up-and-up as far as his time.

However, those bribes pale in comparison to the hilarious requests he had of the English football association back in 2010. Despite being Paraguayan, he apparently asked to be knighted by the queen in exchange for his World Cup vote. Also, one of his aides asked for the FA Cup, an event that has been played since 1871, to be named after him.

“Regarding the offer to name a cup after him, Alberto’s comments were ‘Dr Léoz is an old man and to go to London just to meet the Prince and go to the FA Cup final is not reason enough. If this is combined, say, with the naming of the CUP [sic] after Dr Léoz then that could be reason enough’ his words literally.”

Oh how I wish Aaron Ramsey would have scored the game winner in the Leoz Cup last year.

3. Jack Warner

Title: Formerly — Vice President of FIFA, President of CONCACAF, member of FIFA executive committee

Story: Warner is pretty much your prototype for corruption in a FIFA executive. His past misdeeds could fill an entire book. A brief outline of them would include allegations of understating World Cup earnings to withhold bonuses to his players, selling black market tickets to the 2002 World Cup to make a profit, and possibly accepting payment for a vote for Qatar in the 2022 World Cup vote.

Basically, he is the closest thing you’ll find to a Bond villain in the world of international football. Don’t believe me? He’s daring the American government to arrest him (which the Trinidad and Tobago government apparently just did).

He’s certainly not the type to go quietly into that good night, and he’s the kind of guy who will take others down with the ship if he knows he’s going down. Heck, just four years he threatened and kind of came through on a “football tsunami” following a provisional suspension due to his connections with Mohammed Bin Hammam, a former ExCo member that has been banned from football. He’ll be fun to watch.

4. Jose Maria Marin

Title: Formerly — President of [the Confederação Brasileira de Futebol], President of 2014 FIFA World Cup Committee

Story: Marin followed up Ricardo Teixeira as president of the CBF after Teixeira resigned for “health reasons” months before it was revealed he and his father-in-law former president of FIFA Joao Havelange accepted millions in bribes. Marin’s time as president wasn’t the most eventful two years, as he was replaced by Marco Polo del Nero last month in an election.

The implication in this indictment is arguably not even the worst thing he’s done in the last three years though. That likely came when he pocketed a little kid’s medal after the Sao Paolo Youth Football Cup in 2012.

Come on, man.

… because he hasn’t been indicted yet: FIFA dictator Sepp Blatter, who will probably get reelected president of FIFA today.

The indictments are over bribes allegedly paid to secure Russia and Qatar as the World Cup host countries in 2018 and 2022, respectively. If bribes were made, you’d think FIFA would rebid those World Cups, particularly given the fact that a few countries, including this one, probably could assemble the entire World Cup schedule in existing stadiums in a year of two. FIFA is not rebidding the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Charles C.W. Cooke approves of the arrests, I guess:

Well, well, well. Seemingly out of nowhere, the U.S. government has entered the fray and done what nobody else would. After a lengthy investigation, the New York Times records today, the Justice Department, the F.B.I., and the I.R.S. have “pledged to rid the international soccer organization,” FIFA, of the “systemic corruption” that has been its hallmark for decades. Describing “soccer’s governing body in terms normally reserved for Mafia families and drug cartels,” the Times adds, the DOJ is focusing on a host of crimes, including but not limited to “racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy.” These arrests, the paper confirms, came as “a startling blow.”

How peculiar it is that FIFA should finally be cleaned up by a nation that doesn’t care about soccer.

Rooting out the vast array of criminals that have been operating within FIFA’s grubby little syndicate is necessary and virtuous work — and it is a relief that somebody has finally decided to do it. But, amid all the excitement of the charges, it is worth remembering that even when Sepp Blatter and Co. are ostensibly on the level, they are never too far away from disaster. Once upon a time, FIFA cared primarily about putting on first-class sporting events: If a country had the infrastructure and the will, it could expect a fair shake at hosting a tournament. Now the outfit’s processes have become mired in political correctness, in the quixotic search for “legacy” projects, and in the dirty and hopeless mess that is modern internationalist politics. Because FIFA’s rules are so strict — and because it is more concerned with kickbacks and with infrastructure spending than with soccer — for a given nation to “win” the right to play host is, in truth, for that nation to lose. “Clueless” doesn’t even begin to describe the buggers.

Consider South Africa, which accommodated the 2010 World Cup. Per Canada’s Globe and Mail, the majority of the venues that were constructed for the 2010 World Cup are deteriorating rapidly, at great cost to the country’s government. As of today, “the $600-million Cape Town Stadium” — the flagship of the collection — has been “largely abandoned” and is “losing an estimated $6-million to $10-million (U.S.) annually.” So dire is its future supposed to be, the paper concludes, that “some residents have even suggested that it should be demolished to save money.” This, apparently, is typical. “Almost all of the stadiums are losing money annually,” the Globe and Mail adds. And why? Well, in part because FIFA “refused to allow some South African cities — including Cape Town and Durban — to use their existing stadiums” during the competition. And so, “eager to win the rights to the prestigious tournament, the host countries [agreed] to FIFA’s terms” and were thereby “burdened with massive costs and perennial operating expenses for the stadiums.”

A similar story has obtained in Brazil, which played host to the World Cup last year. Because the deadlines were so narrow, the Washington Post has observed, much of the infrastructure for 2014 was never finished. Now, it sits incomplete and useless — an ugly testament to a makework project that should never have been started. Meanwhile, much of what was finished has been unceremoniously abandoned. “Several of the stadiums built for Brazil’s World Cup have been underused,” Reuters records, “and at least one has been closed because of structural problems.” …

Lamentable as these legacies are, even they represent nothing at all when compared with the slow-motion disaster that is at present unfolding in Qatar. Whatever one believes went down in the bidding process — per the New York Times, “a whistle-blower who worked for the Qatar bid team claimed that several African officials were paid $1.5 million each to support” Qatar’s bid for 2022; per a group of senior British parliamentarians, a $2 million bribe was paid to a FIFA vice-president and his family — that the decision has been allowed to stand is a nothing less than a moral disgrace.

As we are now learning, Qatar’s bid was built atop a pyramid of carefully contrived lies. Acknowledging that the desert heat could prove to be a problem, representatives from the country promised repeatedly that they would design their stadiums to be fully air-conditioned. This, it turns out, is physically impossible. (The failure has forced FIFA to move the event to the winter — slap bang in the middle of international soccer’s busiest season.) Hoping to attract the more socially conscious among the body’s voters, Qatar vowed that it would build twelve full-scale stadiums for the tournament itself and then ship the parts to poorer countries in the aftermath. This, we have subsequently learned, is almost certainly not going to happen. (Qatar now intends to build eight stadiums and has gone worryingly quiet on their reuse.) Most worrying of all, those who were concerned that to award the competition to a Middle Eastern country would inevitably be to sanction a human-rights disaster have been well and truly vindicated.

In December, the Guardian reported that the “Nepalese migrants” who have flooded into the country to build the necessary infrastructure “have died at a rate of one every two days in 2014.” When one adds in the “Indian, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi” workers who have complemented them, the Guardian adds, that number reaches almost one per day. In the West, even a small portion of these deaths would have been sufficient to shut down the project. In Qatar, nobody seems much to care. According to the International Trade Union Confederation and the Nepalese and Indian governments, a startling 1,200 workers have died since construction began — most of them from heart attacks triggered by the extreme heat. If current trends continue, the ITUC anticipates this number will rise to 4,000. We haven’t seen that much death ordered in the name of a sporting event since the more enterprising among the Roman leisured class felt a touch bored one day and decided that it might be fun to see how human beings would fare against their lions.

Put in context, these numbers are even more extraordinary than they appear. Not a single person died during the construction phase of the 2012 London Olympic Games, while just six were killed preparing China for its 2008 turn as host. In total, eight workers were killed prior to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil; the 2010 tournament in South Africa took two. Even if nobody else dies in Qatar between now and 2022, the death toll will be 150 times what it was during the last competition. To find a construction disaster that is remotely comparable, one has to go back more than a century — and even then this level of attrition is abnormal. The Chrysler Building, the Statue of Liberty, and Mount Rushmore were all completed without fatalities. Just five people died building the Empire State Building; eleven were killed putting up the Golden Gate Bridge; and between 20 and 59 perished erecting the Brooklyn Bridge. The only recent civilian engineering project that killed people at the rate we are seeing at present in Qatar? The Panama Canal.

It’s unlikely anyone died during the construction of the stadiums for the 1994 World Cup, hosted in the U.S., either. That’s because all nine stadiums — Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.; Foxboro Stadium between Boston and Providence; RFK Stadium in Washington; the Citrus Bowl in Orlando; the Pontiac Silverdome outside Detroit; Soldier Field in Chicago; the Cotton Bowl in Dallas; Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif.; and the final site, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. — were existing stadiums that needed little revision (usually replacing artificial turf with grass) for World Cup soccer. Every stadium on that list either still exists today or has been replaced by an equally World Cup-capable stadium. And there are numerous stadiums elsewhere in the U.S. that could also host matches with little needed work.

That apparently flies in the face of how FIFA likes to do things. Not that this matters to most Americans, because every predicted wave of soccer interest has failed to materialize. As I’ve written here before, it seems that just because kids like to play soccer doesn’t mean they watch soccer as adults. And as, I guess, a soccer dad now, my observation is that the better quality soccer is, the less interesting it is to watch.

Instead of ESPN …

Something called The Cauldron says:

NBC, CBS and FOX have all tried — and failed — to loosen ESPN’s chokehold on cable sports because they have all been unable to grasp one very simple rule:

You can’t out-ESPN ESPN.

The fact that CBS Sports Network isn’t even recorded by Nielsen speaks for itself, but meanwhile, ESPN averaged over 7 times the viewers as its nearest competitor during both day time and prime time broadcasts.

How is this possible, you ask? The answer is actually quite simple: None of the new sports networks have learned from the mistakes of its predecessors.

CBS Sports Network has toiled in obscurity for a decade since CBS acquired College Sports TV for $325 million in 2005 — where I was working at the time. First, it failed to compete with ESPN’s college sports’ coverage as CBS College Sports Network. And then it failed again after pivoting in 2011 to become a general sports network rebranded as CBS Sports Network.

A microcosm of the channel’s failure, CBS Sports Net’s one major splash to improve ratings, hiring Jim Rome in 2012, went down in flames with his daily show lasting less than two years.

NBC was next up to bat by morphing Versus into the NBC Sports Network in 2012, and hiring Michelle Beadle away from ESPN to be the face of the network with their version of “SportsNation” called “The Crossover.”

Beadle later described her former co-host Dave Briggs as a “talentless hack” and the entire NBC Sports Network experience as “a hot mess,” which gives you a pretty good idea of how that experiment went.

Then came along FOX Sports 1, which was launched two summers ago, billed as a real challenger to ESPN’s throne with Rupert Murdoch’s money and power behind the project.

The network made big-time hires in Gus Johnson and Erin Andrews, launched its own versions of “SportsNation” (“Crowd Goes Wild”) and “SportsCenter” (“FOX Sports Live”), was part of a $3 billion rights deal with the Pac-12 that it shares with ESPN, and gobbled up the rights to Big East basketball.

Yet almost every move FS1 has made has failed miserably.

Andrews was moved from college football to the NFL after one year of FOX’s disastrous college football pre-game show. Crowd Goes Wild was quickly cancelled, FOX Sports Live is dwarfed by SportsCenter, and FOX’s college sports coverage gets crushed by ESPN. …

CBS Sports Network is currently on a ventilator somewhere, while NBC Sports Network seems content having the rights to the NHL and English Premier League soccer. FS1 continues to double down on its investment, as evidenced by the recent hiring of former “First Take” producer and “Embrace Debate” artist Jamie Horowitz.

But moves like that suggest FS1 remains blind to repeating its mistakes all over again, trying to replicate ESPN’s success by bringing in former Bristol employees, and copying The Worldwide Leader’s shows.

That’s a fool’s errand.

If FOX were to hire Skip Bayless (his contract is up soon, by the way), ESPN would just replace him with another stooge to stir shit up while FOX’s knockoff goes and draws a fraction of the Mothership’s audience.

The lesson, at this point, should be clear: Instead of trying to out-ESPN ESPN, sports networks need to be the anti-ESPN.

The irony of FOX Sports 1 not understanding this rule is that it’s the same credo Murdoch used to make FOX News so successful.

Nobody thought there was space for another news channel when FOX News launched in 1996 with CNN already firmly established and MSNBC having recently launched. But FOX News’ Roger Ailes had the ingenious idea of cornering an untapped market: Conservatives who hate the “liberal media.” While FOX News is universally panned by industry insiders, it’s the 800-pound cable news gorilla that routinely trounces its primary competition.

Likewise, there are A LOT of sports fans out there that really hate ESPN and would love an antidote to the “Embrace Debate” culture that has spread to SEVEN daily debate shows on the network. Those fans just haven’t found an alternative yet.

If I were in charge of FOX Sports 1, my motto would be: FS1 is going to be the sports blog of cable sports networks — funny as hell and totally unfiltered. I’d start by canceling “FOX Sports Live” and replacing it with a sports version of “The Man Show” that mixed in sports with on-air drinking, comedic skits and girls jumping on trampolines.

Would it be shameless? Yes. But so is all of FOX News, and it’d also be ten times better than watching a poor man’s “SportsCenter.” Just imagine a sports version of “The Man Show” that, say, paired original co-host Adam Carolla with Bill Simmons and a daily segment narrated by Simmons called, “Why ESPN Sucks.”

The second thing I’d do is get former “Crowd Goes Wild” host Katie Nolan on the air as much as possible instead of just YouTube clips and a weekly show that airs on Sunday nights (the name, “Garbage Time,” is certainly fitting if nothing else). She’s the only creative and original thing FS1 thing has done to date.

Nolan isn’t alone when it comes to potentially available talent, either. For example, Spencer Hall of SB Nation and Drew Magary of Deadspin are Internet stars with huge, loyal followings that would tune in to watch them whenever they are on TV. They’re also widely respected within the blogosphere, making them polar opposites of Skip Bayless.

I’d also build out FS1’s daytime programming with stark alternatives to ESPN’s debate shows. How about a parody of First Take called Last Take? Instead of debating mindless things like, “Could a 52-year old Michael Jordan beat LeBron James?”, Hall and Magary could mockingly argue over the question, “Could the cadaver of Babe Ruth hit a home run off Clayton Kershaw?” with Nolan as the moderator.

These suggestions may fly in the face of conventional television programming wisdom, but pretty much every single executive instinct of the suits at CBS, NBC, and FOX has been wrong.

So perhaps Jerry Seinfeld had it right. “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”

You can agree with his point about trying to out-ESPN ESPN without agreeing to his approach on how to do that, or whether his solution even matches his definition of the problem. What would be the purpose of an ESPN parody show? Bayless and Stephen A. Smith are self-parodies as it is. (Bayless and Smith have their own talk show on every TV in Hell, broadcast 24/7.)

I am probably no one’s target demographic anymore, but I am interested in watching sports to watch sports. And only watch sports. You know, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat; the human drama of athletic competition? That is what’s worth watching. Not the pregame show, not the postgame show, and certainly not hours of uninformed “takes” for the sole purpose of participant self-promotion.

Former Cubs manager Lee Elia’s spectacular rant about Cubs fans (back in the days of only day baseball at Wrigley Field) comes to mind when you wonder who watches ESPN’s aforementioned seven sports yak shows. I would rather watch golf (which I don’t watch) than Bayless or Smith. The first word in ESPN’s name is, yes, “Entertainment,” but ESPN’s sports talk qualifies only in the same way car crash scenes qualify as entertainment.

It’s probably not a surprise that I was more of a fan and viewer of ESPN in its early days when it had more air time to fill than programming and would therefore fill air time with repeats of games (which would actually be convenient for those who don’t work the usual 8-to-5 schedule) or weird sports like Australian Rules Football. I also enjoyed watching ESPN Classic, even though (or perhaps because) what it showed was usually before the era of 16:9 HD and stereo broadcasts with constant score-and-time on the screen.

But as I said, I’m probably in no one’s target demographic anymore. Certainly not ESPN’s.

Baseball’s strikeout

Three-day weekends like this one traditionally include a lot of baseball-watching among baseball fans.

One wonders who future baseball fans will watch, based on this Wall Street Journal story:

As nationwide participation numbers continue to decline, some local youth leagues are reaching a breaking point.

Unable to field enough teams to form a self-contained league, they face a choice between playing teams from surrounding areas, merging with nearby leagues or disbanding altogether. Either way, the game becomes less easily accessible to the casual player, a dying breed in an era of specialization in youth sports.

This shift threatens to cost Major League Baseball millions of potential fans, raising concerns about the league’s future at a time when revenues are soaring and attendance is strong.

“The biggest predictor of fan avidity as an adult is whether you played the game,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said. An MLB spokesman cited fan polling conducted by the league last year as proof. When asked to assess the factors that drove their interest in sports, fans between the ages of 12 and 17 cited participation as a major factor more often than watching or attending the sport. That was particularly true among male fans in that age group, 70% of which cited “playing the sport” as a big factor in building their interest.

Since replacing Bud Selig in January, Manfred has been especially focused on increasing youth interest in baseball. The league recently began working with ESPN to prominently feature local Little League teams during Sunday Night Baseball telecasts. MLB brings the teams to the games, and ESPN shows them during the broadcast. An MLB spokesman said the league also plans to announce a major youth initiative in the coming weeks.

But MLB faces headwinds that have been years in the making and forces that are outside its direct control. In 2002, nine million people between the ages of 7 and 17 played baseball in the U.S., according to the National Sporting Goods Association, an industry trade group. By 2013, the most recent year for which data is available, that figure had dropped by more than 41%, to 5.3 million. Likewise, youth softball participation declined from 5.4 million to 3.2 million over the same span.

Other popular sports, including soccer and basketball, have suffered as youth sports participation in general has declined and become more specialized. A pervasive emphasis on performance over mere fun and exercise has driven many children to focus exclusively on one sport from an early age, making it harder for all sports to attract casual participants. But the decline of baseball as a community sport has been especially precipitous. …

In more affluent areas, the best alternatives are merely inconvenient. Nearby towns pool teams together for an interleague schedule or merge their leagues outright. At its entry level, the sport requires players to leave their communities for games more often than before. …

While neighborhood games become increasingly scarce, year-round travel teams have never been more prevalent. The U.S. Specialty Sports Association, the dominant organizing body for travel baseball, said it has around 1.3 million players spread across 80,000 teams, more than double what it had 10 years ago. The company’s website includes national rankings for teams in age groups that begin at “4 and under.”

Ismael Gonzalez, who manages the Miami-based 9-and-under team MVP Juniors Elite, said his team travels throughout the Southeast, playing more than 100 games a year and practicing two or three days a week. “These kids work like machines,” he said. “This is not just for fun. This is their lifestyle.”

But the cost of that lifestyle—thousands of dollars a year in many cases—puts it out of reach for many parents. It skews heavily white: A 15-year study of travel teams by Nebraska researcher David Ogden found that only 3% of players are black. And its popularity has made baseball more of a niche sport, precisely what MLB wants to avoid at the spectator level.

“The kids who have been playing baseball since they were 18 months old, they’re going to be baseball fans,” said Mark Hyman, a George Washington University sports management professor and author of three books on youth sports. “But MLB can’t rely on them exclusively. There needs to be opportunities for kids who are not going to be Willie Mays and don’t even want to be Willie Mays.”

There are other reasons mentioned in the comments, including some parents emphasizing individual sports such as running, baseball being more fun to play than to watch, baseball being boring to play if you’re not a pitcher or catcher, Major League Baseball being boring to watch, the usual assortment of other physical (other sports) and nonphysical (involving some sort of computer) activities, and this indictment of today’s culture: “… parents keep their kids in a bubble of activities coupled with the irrational fear, in most cases, of prohibiting their kids to bike over to a local park alone to play.”

The counterpoint is to look at baseball’s overall attendance, the highest of any professional sport in the world. Of course, if your favorite major professional sport played 2,430 regular-season games every year, it too would lead the world in attendance, since no other sport gets remotely close to that number of games played each year. Average attendance, however, drops baseball to second, at, according to Statistica, 30,437 per game in 2014–15. behind the National Football League and ahead of Major League Soccer, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association.

The more interesting number (which doesn’t seem to be available) is percentage of seats sold. The NFL percentage is well over 90 percent, and the NHL and NBA numbers are more than 90 percent. The MLB number is around 70 percent. Part of the reason is that MLB teams have difficulty selling seats for an entire 81-game home schedule when the team falls out of contention for the postseason. (In the case of the Brewers, that was approximately April 15.) The owners of baseball are loath to turn away money (though one wonders how much profit a team makes when, say, 20,000 people show up for a game as opposed to 40,000), but one thing MLB might consider is shortening its season by, say, a month, not only in order to play postseason games in decent weather, but to tighten up the schedule and make each game mean more.

But part of the reason also must have to do with baseball’s very nature as the hardest sport to play, as anyone who has swung and missed at a pitch can demonstrate. (Golf is hard enough, and the ball doesn’t move off the tee.) Hitting a baseball is so difficult that .300 — seven out of 10 failures — is the mark of a good player. And anyone who has tried to get a baseball across home plate in the knees-to-armpits strike zone knows that successful pitching isn’t any easier. (I speak from experience in both cases.) A lot of kids who don’t succeed at something right away don’t stick with it.

What’s Brewing? Something different.

As expected, the Brewers fired manager Ron Roenicke this week, despite a two-game winning streak.

Roenicke was fired, of course, because of the epic 2014 collapse, which has carried over into this season. That shouldn’t be that surprising, because all the 2014 collapse did was prove that, over a 162-game season, the Brewers were at best an average, mediocre team.

CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman explains what happened and what’s next:

Brewers GM Doug Melvin acted decisively to fire manager Ron Roenicke and hire well-respected neophyte Craig Counsell. Melvin was so sure about the switch he sent club owner Mark Attanasio an 18-point email detailing why Counsell had to be the choice to lead the suddenly underachieving team – they’d been 16-40 over their last two months of regular-season baseball.

Now Melvin is being proactive about his next possible step. He’s already sent out feelers to other teams about a possible sell-off, in case Counsell can’t play quick miracle worker with the 9-19 team (2-1 since he took over).

And while Melvin painstakingly laid out his 18-point argument for Counsell – just a few of the reasons were about what a long and successful career he had (a plus was sitting on the bench half the time in 16 years, giving him extra time to study the game), how hard he’s worked in the Brewers front office, how smart he is, how respected he is and what a great teammate he was considered to be – at the moment it is hard to imagine a quick enough turnaround to avoid at least some retooling.

Milwaukee, a team that’s used to being in the middle and in the mix, somehow has managed to fall 11 1/2 games behind to the first-place Cardinals in exactly a month. Melvin and Co. have kept Milwaukee competitive – they’ve won in the 80s seven of the last 10 seasons – but he acknowledges there’s always a time to reboot.

The Brewers have gone for it in recent times, trading Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escibar,Michael Brantley, Jake Odorizzi and many others to take their shots, and while there can’t be regrets now, Melvin says they could have had a young $47-million team had they played for the future earlier. If the Cubs can take a pause, no reason that their far-less-rich neighbor to the north can’t, too, he figures.

Word is, Melvin, after playing counsel on behalf of Counsell, is planning to consider just about anything in terms of trades, though the two players he is most reluctant to deal are star catcher Jonathan Lucroy and young shortstop Jean Segura. Lucroy is the closest to untouchable, it seems, followed fairly closely by Segura.

“Those are two tough positions to fill,” Melvin said. “I guess you have to be open to everything. But you’d have to be overwhelmed. We have some pretty good shortstops in the system. But they are doing well in the minors (and Segura) is doing well in the majors. Those are positions that can take years to fill. We’ve got two young ones who are making (little) money.”

Rival GMs suggest they’d be shocked to see Milwaukee part with Lucroy, one of the best two-way catchers in the game, and maybe just a little less so with Segura. The Pirates,Mets, Mariners and Padres look like teams that may need shortstop help, where Segura might fit. But as Melvin suggested, it would have to take a haul.

Assuming Lucroy and Segura stay, the most coveted Brewer in trade would thus become multi-talented center fielder Carlos Gomez, who’s a free agent after the 2016 season.

“That’s the guy,” who’d be of interest, one rival GM said.

“That’s a quality player,” another rival said.

Kyle Lohse, who’s even closer to free agency (after this year he’s free), could be of interest, as well, despite a slow start (7.01 ERA). Rival GMs could see the Cardinals, where he used to play, the Astros, where he knows GM Jeff Luhnow from St. Louis days, and the Dodgers, who’ve lost Brandon McCarthy for the year and will be without Hyun-Jin Ryu for a while (more on that later) as players for Lohse.

Matt Garza is another veteran righthander who could help someone, but with $35-million-plus to go through 2017, one rival exec says, “I’m not sure anyone would want him.”Aramis Ramirez is only solid these days, but third base is a tough spot to fill, so he too could draw interest.

Gerardo Parra, who seemed slightly miscast there as a fourth outfielder, is a useful player and excellent defender. Closer Franicisco Rodriguez looks as good as ever in his fourth go-round in Milwaukee, and big Jonathan Broxton could help someone in the pen.

Of course, Ryan Braun would be interesting as a trade target. While the Brewers expected some dropoff post suspension, it’s been pretty stark, despite some moments (.667 OPS compared to .913 for his career). There’s still hope for a rebound, but as one rival pointed out, “You don’t know what player you’d be getting.” That makes things dicey.

Young second baseman Scooter Gennett is reasonably priced, and Milwaukee turned back at least the Angels‘ winter overture, but there are still some teams with second-base needs, so you never know.

Melvin, though, feels certain about Counsell after seeing him operate the past couple years in the front office. Though he understands there will be critics, who reasonably point out that Counsell has never managed or coached at any level.

“What kind of message does this send to all the coaches and managers in their system?” one rival executive wondered.

Melvin countered, “I think game management is a small part of what a manager needs to do. I think it is all about preparation and passion for the game. He’s always been well respected. He’s an intelligent guy who had a good understanding of analytics, and an understanding about younger players.”

Attanasio bought the 18-point reasoning, but just in case, he interviewed Counsell for three hours himself. There’s no denying at this point that they needed something different.

The Brewers began 7-18 after finishing last year in a 9-22 nose dive after spending 150 days in first place, so something was amiss. Roenicke wondered why he was fired right after the team had won two of three games. But Melvin said he talked to the team about that.

“I apologized for making a change when we had played well the last three games. But I had to look at the last 100 games. And we were 28 games under,” said Melvin, who has been in discussions with Attanasio about his own future and is expected to stay on in some key capacity beyond this year.

If anything was wrong with the timing, perhaps it should have been done after last year’s collapse – it’s tough to change the story following such an implosion. Plus, Brewers higherups compounded that choice by picking up Roenicke’s 2016 option for $1.4 million in advance, a generous but unnecessary March move. Melvin said they all agreed to give Roenicke – who had a winning record overall with the Brewers – another chance. And one of those votes of support came from Counsell.

But soon into this season, it became apparent a change needed to be made, as whispers started to go around that Roenicke had “lost the clubhouse.” Although, Melvin puts little stock in that, saying, “I am not always in the clubhouse, and I am not one to have a spy.”

Roenicke is the fall guy for Melvin’s failures as GM. That’s not surprising, because most Brewers fans overrate the talent level on this team. Chris Davis and Logan Schaefer are major league players only because they’re on a major league roster (or at least Schaefer was until he was sent down when Carlos Gomez returned). Braun will never be the player he was before his, well, substance (ab)use. Gomez has the outfielder equivalent of the old baseball saying “a million-dollar-arm and a 10-cent head.” He is the type of player you put on a good team so you can live with his screwups.

There are three specific players from the 2011 Brewers that were never replaced. One was Prince Fielder, though the Brewers made the right decision to let him go, unless you think a 300-pound player is likely to have a largely injury-free career. But only this year with Adam Lind do the Brewers have an actual left-handed-hitting power threat. The other two are maybe more surprising — Jerry Hairston Jr., who was a great utility player and good in the clubhouse, and, of all people, Nyjer Morgan, who may have driven team management (and perhaps his teammates) crazy, but he was a very valuable addition to the 2011 team.

Assuming Melvin is replaced, either by his choice (retirement) or not, the next GM needs to have one priority: Pitching. As you know, the Brewers have largely failed to develop their own pitching largely during their entire history. The 1982 World Series team had one home-grown starting pitcher, Moose Haas. The 2011 National League Central champion team had one home-grown starting pitcher, Yovani Gallardo. Both teams imported most of their other starters (in 1982’s case, Pete Vuckovich, Mike Caldwell and, late in the season, Don Sutton; in 2011’s case, Zack Greinke, Randy Wolf and Shaun Marcum) and their closers (Rollie Fingers in most of 1982, John Axford in 2011).

The Brewers have a depressing history of having one good starting pitcher who then burns out. Teddy Higuera becomes Cal Eldred, who becomes Ben Sheets, who becomes Yovani Gallardo, who becomes either Wily Peralta or Jimmy Nelson. The Braves had an embarrassment of wealth in starting pitching in the 1990s, all except for Greg Maddux developed within their own system. (The Braves traded for John Smoltz, but he was a minor-leaguer at the time.) The Dodgers have had plenty of starting pitching for decades. Bench coaches are hired for in-game strategy, so a manager doesn’t necessarily need to do that himself.

Accordingly, I’m not sure Counsell was the right choice to replace Roenicke. (Given that Counsell worked with Melvin, maybe he should have, or should, replace Melvin.) Position players are relatively easy to find. (Where was Lind last year?) The Brewers need a manager who can develop his pitching, such as it is — whoever might be 2015’s answer to George Bamberger, who turned a bad pitching staff into a pretty good staff in the late 1970s, whether or not the Staten Island sinker was a legal pitch.

Related to that, it might be worthwhile for the Brewers to replace all of their minor league managers, coaches and instructors, and find managers, coaches and instructors who can actually teach their players fundamental baseball. Brewers losses are a traveshamockery of bad baserunning (this means you, Carlos) and bad defense (Braun will never remind anyone of Garry Maddox, wherever you put him), in addition to poor pitching and insufficient hitting.

The Brewers face a bad choice of either hanging on to overrated players (everyone except Lucroy, Nelson and Segura should be available), or having players who are not ready for the major leagues playing in the major leagues. It’s a good thing Miller Park is a great place to watch a baseball game. There won’t be good baseball played at Miller Park for years.

 

It’s Photo Friday!

Time (because I decided it was) for some family photos, beginning with the newest member of the family …

young Max

… Max, who is either the World’s Biggest Basenji (they are supposed to be the size of beagles; he certainly is not) or what we call a PitBasenHerd. He appears to mostly be Basenji, though he is supposed to be part pit bull and, we think, part German shepherd. The combination makes him this fierce:

Max and Dylan

Max asleep

We got Max from his original owner across the street, in part because Max kept letting himself out of the house. It turned out Max wasn’t supposed to be in the house at all (lease conditions can be such a pain). We heard his owner was looking for a new home for him, so on Sunday we left a note on the door. We heard nothing until Saturday when I was on my way out the door for a basketball game, when she came up and asked if we were still interested in the dog (then named Peanut). I told her to talk to the people inside. I left, and we had one dog and one cat, and when I returned, we had two dogs and one cat. (Now just two dogs, but you knew that.)

Max is a challenge. We were, shall we say, misled about his age and the degree of his housebrokenness. He also chews everything in sight, including, last night, a baseball. He has helped himself to food on the kitchen counter, and he helped himself into our bed at night, where he defines the word “inert.” And yet he’s cute and he’s very affectionate, he displays most of the characteristics of the unique Basenji, and he angers the fat chihuahua, so he’s got that going for him.

As for the human children …

fire explorer Michael

… this is Michael the Fire Explorer, which means he hangs around the busiest unpaid people in town, the Platteville Fire Department.

Shaena and Dylan at Steve's

This is Shaena and Dylan, during the last college basketball game of the year. I’m sure you’re shocked that Dylan is into acting.

vice terminator announcer

You may recall I spent most of the winter announcing basketball. UW-Platteville had a White Out Night against UW-Whitewater (Whitewater 65, Platteville 64), and so in that spirit I figured out how to wear all white — white jacket borrowed from someone (I used Marty Robbins’ “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation” as bumper music), white shirt, white tie, white pants and black and white basketball shoes — to participate. The season included the last endless road trip to Superior, which as you know is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s alma mater, so of course I had to go into one break saying “Ah’ll be bock,” later saying that Superior was going to say “hasta la vista, baby” to the rest of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference when it moves into a new conference. When Superior came to Platteville it was Alumni Night, so I thought about what I was doing when I was in college, and reused the white blazer to achieve this sort of Miami Vice/Terminator look, I guess.

(You may notice the scar on my forehead, the result of my finding out that a bridal shop’s diagonal bars, on which to hang dresses, was the perfect height for my head. The doctor who put my face back together has been very pleased with his work.)

Up next …

old guys at baseball game… this disreputable looking quartet is your non-humble writer (second from right) and his father (far left) and his two friends since approximately grade school. (In fact the two wearing Brewers stuff were born in the same hospital within days of each other.) For the second year in a row we went to a Brewers game (remarkably we got let into Milwaukee County), but unlike last year, the Brewers won, prompting some wit in the parking lot to note that we had seen one-third of their wins that day. (Now it’s down to one-fifth, I believe.)

 

When a franchise depends on a game

Readers will recall my prediction last week that there was no way the Legislature would approve a financing plan for a new Bucks arena.

My source for that prediction, Right Wisconsin, may have changed its mind, or something:

A new poll … suggests that majorities of Wisconsinites could be persuaded to support public financing for a new Bucks arena if – and it is a big if – they are given the issue “in context” and hear the strongest arguments of proponents.

The poll, conducted by the Tarrance Group and commissioned by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, is clearly intended as a counter-weight to a recent Marquette University Law Poll that found overwhelming opposition to the arena deal. …

In a memo accompanying the numbers, Tarrance noted that “These numbers stand in contrast to the recent Marquette Poll,” and explained the two major differences between the polls:  “First, the ‘context effect’ of having asked about other budget proposals immediately prior to this question, setting up a contest with other budget items in respondents minds. These other budget proposals included cutting money from public schools, the UW system, and borrowing money for roads.

“Second, the question in the Marquette Poll about the proposal only focused on one specific aspect, borrowing money, and not providing voters that complete picture of the proposal.”

Critics are likely to note that the wording of the poll is clearly designed to elicit positive responses, but its significance may lie in the fact that it demonstrates that there are, in fact, arguments that can be made that can win majority public support. Politically, this might make GOP legislators more comfortable with a “yes” vote than they would have been after the MU poll.

In other words: the arena deal remains a very heavy lift politically, but it may not be as toxic as the earlier poll had made. The poll also suggest how supporters will go about selling the public on the deal – emphasizing the public/private partnership, the economic benefits of the ancillary development, and the payoff from the state’s “investment.”

In that sense, the poll is a road map for selling the Bucks’ deal in the coming weeks.

One interesting tidbit: the poll tests the question of borrowing $150 million – rather than a larger number sometimes floated in Madison. It does not test options for closing any remaining fund gap.

So how did we get to this point? Like this:

“The National Basketball Association, or NBA, says that if a new arena is not built in Milwaukee, they will force the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team to leave by 2017. If the team leaves, the state of Wisconsin will lose more than $730 million dollars in revenue over 30 years, and will be forced to pay over $100 million to keep the Bradley Center open, hurting Wisconsin’s ability to fund other priorities like education and economic development.”

Knowing this, fully 64% of Wisconsin voters think it would be better for Wisconsin if the Milwaukee Bucks stay in Milwaukee, while only 18% say it would be better if the team leaves to go to another state.

Support for keeping the Bucks crosses party lines, with 69% of Republicans, and 65% of Democrats alike agreeing that is better if the Bucks stay.

Regionally, agreement that it is best to keep the Bucks holds at 67% in the Milwaukee and the Green Bay media markets.  Majorities elsewhere prefer to keep the Bucks as well.

Next, respondents were provided with a full description of the proposal:

“There is a proposal to build a new arena in downtown Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Bucks and Herb Kohl have committed to spend $250 million of their own money, half of the cost. The city, county and state would raise the other half. As part of this 50/50 public/private partnership, there would be no new statewide taxes, and revenue generated by the NBA team will more than repay the public investment.”

Knowing this, 67% of voters support building a new arena in downtown Milwaukee, while only 21% oppose. …

Next, respondents are provided some more information about the benefits of the development:

“Total public investment of $250 million dollars for a new arena would attract up to $500 million dollars in additional development beyond the arena itself, creating a sports and entertainment district in the heart of Milwaukee. The total development would create over 10,000 jobs over the next decade, many of them permanent. All of the development and jobs will generate tax revenue for the state that benefits everyone statewide.”

With this additional information, support for building a new arena climbs to 71%, while 20% remain opposed. …

“All told, under the proposal, the state would borrow $150 million dollars, which is only $50 million more than the state will owe on the Bradley Center if they do nothing. Borrowing the $150 million dollars will generate $750 million dollars in additional investment from the private sector and create thousands of jobs, while doing nothing will cause the Milwaukee Bucks to leave Wisconsin and cost the state more than $730 million in lost tax revenue.”

Given that $150 million figure, 64% of voters say that “Wisconsin borrowing money to help fund this arena project is a good investment for the state.”  Only 28% say it is not. …

Finally, respondents are given a little more information about the nature of the proposal for the state to borrow money:

“As you know, under the arena development proposal, the state would borrow $150 million dollars, which will be repaid by tax revenue generated by the Milwaukee Bucks. The loan would come from a state run trust fund, so the state would be borrowing from itself, and NOT from Wall Street. By law, all interest paid back on the loan would go directly towards state education funding.”

Knowing this, 67% say they support “Wisconsin borrowing money from itself to fund the arena development proposal, with the interest paid back going directly towards state education funding?” Only 26% oppose.

There are at least a few dubious assumptions in the poll questions, including all the estimates of economic impact if the arena is built and the negative economic impact if the Bucks leave.

There is a more dubious assumption that these poll results will move Democratic legislators, none of whom have spoken in favor of a state-financed Bucks arena. As with Miller Park in the mid-1990s, it is apparently up to Republicans to get a financing package through the Legislature to benefit primarily Democratic Milwaukee County.

(You would think Republicans would point out to Milwaukee Democrats that it is Democrats’ constituents, the workers at Bradley Center events, who would lose their jobs if the Bucks left Milwaukee. Those people don’t get rich working at the Bradley Center, but what they get paid is far more than unemployment. Or maybe that task of persuasion should be left to Bucks owner Marc Lasry, a well known big-dollar Democratic owner, or former Democratic U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, former owner of the Bucks.)

Whether the Legislature approves a new Bucks arena may depend, perhaps ironically, on the Bucks themselves. The Bucks presently trail their NBA first-round playoff series to Chicago three games to two, having unexpectedly won game five of their series in Chicago Monday night. Game six is at the Bradley Center Thursday night, and tickets were sold out not long after the Bucks’ Monday night win.

This could be analogous to the 1995 Seattle Mariners, who won their first division title and playoff series while the Washington Legislature was considering a replacement for the Kingdome under threats of departure without a new stadium. The Mariners won their series, galvanizing the Northwest in the process, and got Safeco Field.

On the other hand, the Brewers managed to get Miller Park despite their inept play (and, worse, management) through nearly all of the 1990s. The Brewers stayed in Milwaukee because Gov. Tommy Thompson simply refused to have the Brewers leave on his watch. (The Braves’ departure from Milwaukee for Atlanta in 1965 cost the state Supreme Court chief justice his job in the next election. The Braves announced they were leaving in 1964, and in Lyndon Johnson’s landslide election year, Democratic Gov. John Reynolds lost his bid for reelection.

It is also possible that both polls are correct — that a majority of Wisconsinites want the Bucks to stay in Wisconsin, but a majority of Wisconsinites don’t want their tax dollars, directly or indirectly, going to a Bucks arena for a less-than-statewide team. I’m not sure how you get around that, but attitudes might change if the Bucks are able to make an unexpectedly deep playoff run, as they did for the 1995 Mariners.