Moving March Madness

The prospect of the WIAA state basketball tournaments moving from Madison to Green Bay, perhaps as early as next season, is going over as well as Minnesota’s beating Wisconsin in any sport.

The best analysis comes from the Wisconsin State Journal’s Tom Oates:

… This is the dumbest move in Wisconsin sports since somebody decided Don Morton could coach football in the Big Ten Conference. UW and the WIAA have taken one of the greatest and most enduring sports traditions in the state and put its future in serious jeopardy because neither side was willing to be reasonable and compromise on the matter. Throughout the, um, negotiations, both sides have been arrogant, bull-headed, shortsighted, greedy and completely out of touch with what the people of Wisconsin want.

And that, folks, is as positive as I can be about this unless the principals on both sides come to their senses in the next few weeks. …

UW will lose one of its best marketing tools for prospective students and their tuition-paying parents. The athletic department, thanks to this decision and the recent format change in the Big Ten hockey playoffs, will see its 17,000-seat arena sit empty for two weeks during March Madness almost every year. UW’s basketball programs will lose a powerful recruiting tool because the Kohl Center will no longer be the place every high school player aspires to get to.

Local merchants will lose millions in revenue and Madison will lose some of its charm without letter jacket-wearing teens roaming State Street and the UW campus throughout March. Prep athletes and their school’s fans will lose a treasured destination, one that combines atmosphere and mystique like no other city in the state. Casual basketball fans will lose a great tradition and, one suspects, their interest in the tournament if it leaves the city to which they’ve made pilgrimages for decades. …

[WIAA executive director Dave] Anderson opted for short-term cash incentives offered by Green Bay as opposed to the long-term effects of moving the tournaments to a city where there is no State Street, no appealing college campus and no hope of re-creating the atmosphere of a tournament weekend in Madison. Truth is, the WIAA has done a good job of running its tournaments into the ground for years. And if adding a fifth division and reducing the Division 1 field to four teams put the first few nails in the tournaments’ coffin, moving them to Green Bay should finish the job. …

Sorry, I’d like to be more positive than that, but UW’s arrogance and the WIAA’s stubbornness are making that impossible.

It’s usually a copout for a commentator to blame everybody, but not in this case. The only people to escape blame should be the Green Bay organizers who came up with a bid with which the WIAA felt enough comfort to trash more  than 90 years of tradition.

The Wisconsin Sports Network performed a flagrant act of journalism by reprinting the UW memo suggesting ways the WIAA could reschedule to fit into UW’s schedule:

February 2013

– If Penn State men’s hockey series cannot be moved, WIAA could move individual wrestling tournament to Thursday-Friday-Saturday (Feb 28-March 1-2) at the Kohl Center and combine with team wrestling tournament currently scheduled in the Field House Friday-Saturday (March 1-2). …

March 2013

– WIAA has moved the dates of their girls basketball tournament to Thursday-Friday-Saturday (March 7-8-9).  The Kohl Center is not available on these dates due to a UW men’s hockey series.  The UW Field House has been offered as an option for this tournament to be played in.  If WIAA is not interested in this facility, girls basketball tournament could be played in the Kohl Center Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday (March 5-6-7). …

– Boys basketball tournament could be played in the Kohl Center Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday (March 12-13-14) or Thursday-Friday-Saturday (March 21-22-23).

– We have also suggested to the WIAA that they combine the boys and girls basketball tournaments into one weekend at the Kohl Center and only play the 10 championship games in order to fit the games into 3 days.

The state individual wrestling tournament and the state team wrestling tournaments — the latter a series of dual meets between teams — are separate for a reason. If you’re trying to have the team tournament at the same time as the individual tournament, you might as well not even bother with the team tournament. And as one comment put it, “I was searching for a scenario that would make GB favorable to me- a mid week tournament at the Kohl as an alternate just did it.”

Let’s remember that UW will be giving up tournaments that bring in $9 million every year for tournaments that will have fewer people attending every few years or so. UW will get more national attention from a Big Ten or NCAA tournament than from a state tournament, but thanks to being in the Big Ten with its national TV contracts, national notoriety doesn’t seem to be UW’s problem.

The dumbest comment comes from a man who doesn’t usually write dumb things, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Michael Hunt:

There is no need for the event to remain rooted in one location like it has in Madison for just about forever.

And if it does prove to be movable, the tournament needs to be in the state’s major city at some point.

The tournament belongs in Milwaukee. …

The tournament has been in Madison since glaciers cut the isthmus. Not knocking Green Bay, but when the Packers aren’t in season, which would include the entire month of March, the place can take on the feel of the dark side of the moon.

Among its qualities as a destination point for the small towns that follow the WIAA tournament, Milwaukee has an undeniable basketball heritage. If you don’t believe it by the current state of its NBA franchise, look at the buildings it has in tribute.

Despite its status as the NBA’s oldest non-renovated arena, the Bradley Center is clean, has all the amenities the tournament would require and, most important, would be a dream destination for high school kids. Who wouldn’t want to launch jumpers in the same building where Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade played?

Hunt evidently needs to sit somewhere in the Bradley Center other than press row or the lower-section seats behind the sidelines. The Bradley Center was designed not for basketball, but for hockey; the Bradley family once included the owners of the Milwaukee Admirals. (Wisconsin’s last hockey Frozen Four win was at the Bradley Center in 2006.) Having sat in the Bradley Center for a Bucks game, I can tell you if you’re not sitting in the 94 feet of the lower level behind the sidelines, you might as well be watching the game from Waukesha. And as far as Milwaukee’s “undeniable basketball heritage,” the Bucks won the NBA title a month before my sixth birthday, and won nothing while Allen played for them. Wade, a native of Chicago, not Milwaukee, plays for the NBA’s answer to the Dallas Cowboys. I can name more native-Milwaukee basketball players than anyone playing at the state tournament next month.

But wait! There’s more!

The knock against the 18,777-seat Bradley Center is it is too large for the state tournament. But that’s a minor thing next to the building’s schedule and parking. Parking, scarce and expensive, would be a negotiation point with the WIAA, especially compared to the cheap expanses of Green Bay.

But please, do not raise the tired myth of downtown Milwaukee safety, especially after a big event lets out into the streets. Seriously, it is not an issue, no matter how many people who have never been to the city try to push it.

I wrote last week that the protests du jour had nothing to do with state basketball’s possibly leaving Madison. It is more plausible that concerns over student safety in downtown Madison, with its State Street-area riffraff, may have been a factor, though I’m skeptical.

Concerns over student safety based upon Milwaukee’s role as the capital of most of Wisconsin’s social pathologies and crime (such as the mugging of the mayor) make state’s moving to Milwaukee as likely as my being elected president in November. (As one comment on Hunt’s piece put it, “The city public schools of Milwaukee should have to raise their combined high school graduation rate to even be considered for any WIAA tournaments.”) Who out there is OK with letting your 16-year-old run around in downtown Milwaukee? (And by the way, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel readers, calling Wisconsinites who have concerns about their safety in Milwaukee ignorant racists is not likely to encourage them to come to Milwaukee for any reason.)

The State Journal’s Andy Baggot thinks the heat is now on UW athletic director Barry Alvarez for reasons that go beyond where the WIAA goes:

Between the looming Adidas fiasco, the John Chadima investigation and the WIAA controversy, Alvarez has some sizeable, hard-to-digest entrees on his administrative plate at the moment. …

The WIAA matter is a major image concern for Alvarez. If scheduling conflicts can’t be resolved and the boys and girls state basketball tournaments are purposely yanked out of Madison for the first time since 1920, he will be high on a list of people targeted for blame.

When we define Alvarez’s legacy as UW athletic director years from now, this moment will definitely catch our eye.

Alvarez’s success as UW’s football coach speaks for itself. And UW is better off financially because of Alvarez’s work. Alvarez also has made many Wisconsinites believe that his last name is Spanish for “arrogant,” something Wisconsinites really do not like in people. Similar to UW coaches, Alvarez will be judged on whether the teams he supervises continue to put butts with wallets in seats. And Alvarez is in danger of having 70,000 or so fewer of them sitting in the Kohl Center in March.



2 thoughts on “Moving March Madness

  1. “UW will lose one of its best marketing tools for prospective students and their tuition-paying parents?” Unless they have a 4.0 to go w/their 3-point shot, most white males at the state tournament can’t get in to UW.

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