Let FGCU teach you a lesson

As the seconds ticked away in Florida Gulf Coast’s victory over San Diego State yesterday evening, it started to look familiar. Cheerleaders, fans, players and coaches beside themselves with joy. One player on the side, popping out his jersey for the country to read “FGCU.” Another raising his arms, getting the fans to heap more praise on the team – which is impossible, because the crowd couldn’t get any louder. It looked a lot like March 19th, 2005, at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland. The cast of characters was different, the colors blue and green instead of black and gold – but the story was the same. Upstart program, never been on this stage before, shines in the face of adversity and breaks through to the Sweet 16. They’re immediate media darlings, and all is right with the world.

We saw what happened with us. We lost our coach to the realities of college basketball. We lost our players to graduation, and a huge chunk of the fan base when we couldn’t sustain the high level of play that brought them around in the first place.

Hopefully those things don’t happen to FGCU. Hopefully Wilson G. Bradshaw, the president of the university, understands what he has and invests in the future of the program that has just put his school front and center in a nation with thousands of four-year institutions. Hopefully the fans at FGCU realize that nights like tonight may become something of a habit if they don’t cut and run the moment the chips are down.

That’s what has happened here. People got tired of losing (or hell, not winning at the level they had gotten used to so quickly), so they’ve one by one abandoned the Milwaukee program that they cheered so hard for eight years ago. Of those who haven’t left, many also cheer for Marquette and Wisconsin – after all, they need someone to care about in the tournament. The university missed two golden opportunities in 2005 and 2006 to invest in the program by securing the facilities it should have gotten in the late 1980’s and we’re still waiting for today.

This university remains a sleeping giant, with the Big Ten-sized enrollment and the rapidly growing endowment and budget. It’s the anchor of the best neighborhood in a city that is bucking the trend of its midwestern neighbors and actually growing in size, due in part to the culture and business produced in large part by the university.

What’s it going to take to wake it up? Commitment. It’s not just commitment of the Chancellor, or the AD, or the basketball coach. It’s not just the commitment of fans like Jimmy Lemke or Michael Poll or David Nicholas. It’s going to take all of us – each and every one of us, working toward a common goal, united under one banner with one purpose – a better future for Milwaukee Athletics, and in turn the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Once upon a time, John Calipari did an interview for one of the season preview magazines when he was head coach at Memphis. He talked about how “it takes a village” to sustain success as a mid-major. We know that in his case, the statement is something of a joke because what it took at Memphis was a few bags of money and someone to take Derrick Rose’s ACT. But for the rest of us, the quote rings true.

It does take a village. Hundreds of people, working to bring the program up by its boot straps and set it on a course of sustained success. It’s not just the donor’s money, though we need a lot of it. It’s not just students showing up to games, but we need a lot of them. It’s not just Chancellor Lovell breaking out the checkbook and increasing the university’s stake in athletics to match the students’, but that would cure our ills. It’s going to take everyone to do their part.

We can’t wait for the new season – the moves have already begun. FCS juggernauts Georgia Southern and Appalachian State are moving up to FBS in the Sun Belt. George Mason is filling one of the holes blown into the Atlantic 10 by the Big East. More moves are coming; it’s almost a certainty that the Horizon League is going to lose a member or two to the Missouri Valley Conference or the Atlantic 10; it’s likely only a matter of time.

Side note: remember when Milwaukee was a much better candidate for MVC expansion a year ago than it is today? It wasn’t the 8-24 season but the move to the Klotsche Center (you know, the place that wasn’t built for D-I basketball games when it was opened in the 1970’s?) that knocked Milwaukee down the list. Who authorized the move to the Klotsche Center? Does that person and/or people have a vested interest in keeping the Panthers in the Horizon League? Ask yourself that.

I’m not going to stay on the sidelines anymore. As noted last month, I’m no longer letting my crazy fly all over the place. I’ve channeled it into a vision for Milwaukee Athletics that answers many of our burning questions in the present and the future.

That vision needs support, from a legitimate organizing body for Milwaukee’s fan base.

I can’t say much now, but keep an eye on in the coming weeks.

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