PantherU

What our $35 million practice facility could look like

If you haven’t had a chance yet, take a gander at the Milwaukee Business Journal article talking about Amanda Braun and her plans as Athletic Director at our fine university.

There isn’t a whole lot of new stuff in here for Panther fans, but the snippet to take away – one that you’d probably already guessed due to the move downtown – is that the on-campus arena, for now, is on the back-burner, and the first priority is a practice facility for the basketball team.

We’ve gone over it many times on PantherU. The cramped space of the Klotsche Center has a negative effect not just on basketball, but on all sports that practice in it as well as students that would use the space for intramurals and open gym.  Adding practice space – for any sport, really – opens up that area in the times that the two basketball programs would use the space. Nearly every team on campus uses the Klotsche arena floor.

The university wants to build a basketball practice facility first, as opposed to an indoor soccer/track/baseball facility, because the benefits are much more obvious. You take care of your cash cow so it keeps delivering the milk.  Giving those other sports a separate practice facility would have a great effect on their recruiting and practice, but the university will likely never see real revenue from soccer and baseball – at least, not in the form of higher ticket sales due to a better product.  Basketball, on the other hand, sells tickets today, and will continue to sell tickets as long as it exists.

The cost for either facility would be roughly the same – somewhere between $10 and $15 million. That’s a lot for practice space that won’t be used for games, but as it is in business, this is an investment in the future.

If you’re an avid reader of PantherU, you’ll know that I have a problem with the scope of a $10 million basketball practice facility.  That problem is that building a facility like that won’t have any major effect on the program and the university.

Throughout its history, a huge problem with this university is its lack of foresight for what is needed down the road. As it is with the biggest problem on campus – that being the lack of communication between departments – people at UWM often are trying to solve only the problem that is in front of their face.

The problem in front of their face is obvious: there’s not enough space for the program to stretch out. They see the other Horizon League schools, all with practice facilities built between $9 million and $14 million, and they see a problem they can fix. Take the students’ arena fee, change it to an athletics facilities fee, and take care of the space problem for practice. Then all you need to do is wash your hands and that problem is finished.

What they don’t see is the problem down the road. What happens when Oakland University capitalizes on the move to the Horizon League and builds a practice facility at $18 million? They’ll own the conference in basketball due to being ahead in the facilities “arms race” until someone surpasses them. The problem is that if we build our bare bones $10 million facility, that’s our move. We’re not expanding a practice facility at added cost when there are many other facilities problems with the school.

For administrators, this facility needs to be very important. It’s not on the level of the new science building or anywhere near as important as Innovation Park, but it’s important all the same. College athletics – it’s the game we play in this country. If you aren’t playing ball, you’re not getting picked.

It’s important to be good at ball because you want the best students possible to enroll at your school. To do that, you need a brand that pulls in high school seniors – having a great basketball program is a significant part of a successful brand. Ask Marquette University what their school would be like without basketball. Having a great basketball program also puts you on national TV from November through April, which alerts a far wider audience to the fact that you exist. You’re pulling from a much greater pool of prospective students.

As I said, it’s important to be good at basketball. Of course, these administrators at UWM shouldn’t need to look further than their own institution to find evidence of a prosperous basketball program positively affecting a university. All they need to do is look at their student body from 2004 to 2007, and see what the years did to this school.

So if you’re going to try and make your basketball program prosperous, you need to have the best players. To have the best players, you need the best recruiting. To have the best recruiting, you need to have the best recruiting tools. The best recruiting tools are facilities.

If you build a $10 million practice facility, all you’ve changed is that you now have a dedicated practice facility. Congratulations, you’ve just eliminated the advantage held over you by Green Bay, UIC, Valparaiso, and Wright State. You spent $10 million to meet the rest of the pack in the Horizon League.

The truth of the matter is, a $10 million facility is barely two courts and a locker room. There’s nothing flashy that’s going to draw better recruits, except for the fact that it isn’t terrible, like our current situation.

That is why it is necessary to aim higher. Personally, I’d aim much higher.

The reason the arena is on the back burner is because the university could spend $40 million and they wouldn’t really do anything to push the program further. All we would be is the best Horizon League program we can be. But that’s the thing – we already are the best Horizon League program we can be. All the trophies won in the past 15 years support that argument.

On the flipside, the university can spend $30 million less than an arena – $10 million – and cover the basic problems in the basketball program. But what if they didn’t spend $30 million less than an arena? What if they spent only a handful of million less?

The current gold standard in college basketball is the $250 million arenas built at the University of Oregon and the University of Louisville. The latter is a university not unlike our own, yet it is the reigning national champion and the most profitable basketball team in the country. But we don’t have $250 million to throw around.

As for practice facilities, can you guess what the gold standard is for college basketball? $100 million? $80 million? Nope. $33 million, adjusted for inflation, is the cost of the practice facility at the University of Kentucky, one of college basketball’s national elite.

Of course, $33 million isn’t money we couldn’t raise. This university has considered building a $60 million arena, so there’s nothing that says it can’t build a $35 million practice facility, one that would put the gold standard of college basketball at Milwaukee. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Talk about an overnight change. The basketball program would go from searching for diamonds in the rough to swimming in Uncle Scrooge McDuck’s silo of golden coins. The higher level of talent flowing into the Milwaukee program would raise the level of success, which in turn would grow a much larger fan base, which would spend the kind of money that would eliminate our athletics debt and get the program doing what it should: putting money in the academic coffers.

We would also price ourselves out of the facilities arms race not just with the Horizon League, but the rest of the country. Marquette has already played its hand with the Al McGuire Center (the $42 million price tag would have been halved if not for the 4,200-seat arena inside). Wisconsin practices in the Kohl Center. No Horizon League team (or MVC, Summit, OVC or Atlantic 10 for that matter) could even begin to compete, putting Milwaukee ahead of all.

Even if some of the national elite build swankier facilities, our $35 million facility would remain one of the best in the nation for 50 years, decades more than we’d need to build the program into a national powerhouse.

If this facility comes to pass, it doesn’t matter if the U.S. Cellular Arena remains our home for 50 years. We’ll fill it, whether or not the Bucks leave town and whether or not Marquette remains one of the national elite. Like Cincinnati, Raleigh-Durham and Philadelphia, there’s room in Milwaukee for more than one national powerhouse in college basketball (especially considering Marquette and Milwaukee rarely cross paths in recruiting).

What conference we play in is also important, but that practice facility will make it so we essentially write our own ticket to any Midwestern conference we want short of the Big Ten and Big East, although I’d be perfectly happy owning the Horizon League year-in and year-out – and the level of the conference would inevitably rise to compete with us, much like the West Coast Conference has seen the rise of programs like Saint Mary’s and Loyola Marymount rise to compete with Gonzaga.

So what would this facility look like? What exactly does $35 million buy the university?  To be sure, we don’t know even how much this facility we’re about to show costs. But it’s somewhere in the neighborhood, so let’s have some fun and see what a real practice facility can be.

All credit goes to Joe Rice, the alumnus who owns a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Architecture from our alma mater. His thesis project blew the roof off PantherU a couple years ago, and now he’s back to try and help us show the university what could be if they’re willing to go all-in with this program.

SW_Exterior

 

The space Rice picked for his basketball practice facility is currently held by a surface lot in front of the main entrance to the Klotsche Center. If you look on the left side, you’ll notice one of the load-bearing cement poles that sit in front of the athletic department’s current office space.

As you can see, the facility has a beautiful glass facade, not unlike the Klotsche pavilion’s taller one across the road. It is three stories tall, two above ground and one basement level. It is far enough above the water table that it is doable.

NW_Exterior

Down the road, you can see that the facility is much more imposing from the Klotsche Center side of the facility. There are bike racks and an emergency exit on the north side of the building. That grey block in the background is Sabin Hall.

Aerial SE

One more shot from the outside, to give you an idea of what we’re working with. While it is an imposing sight from the campus side of the building, from this position (above Downer Avenue) the practice facility looks like it’s barely there. It’s built into the hill, which has been rolled up all the way to the second floor windows to make a ‘green roof’ for the facility, effectively creating green space for the school while also putting in a facility. It’s magnificent, and besides the construction, neighbors will be thrilled – the facility isn’t imposing to them and its cost all but ensures the basketball team will likely be 20 years away from playing on campus again, if ever.

atrium-1

 

This one’s the hook. Recruits walking into this facility would get one look at the place and realize that it is of the highest quality – young, impressionable men and women will want to come here if this is where they’re spending four years.

The atrium has two bathrooms as you can see on the right. The first floor doors in the back lead to the basketball offices for the men’s and women’s coaching staff as well as a recruiting room. Up on the second floor is something we’ll get to later.

bballsuite

 

Through the first floor doors you reach the coaches’ offices. There are two identical suites here, one for the men’s team and one for the women’s team. The video coordinator and DOBO (Director of Basketball Operations) offices are each roughly the same size as the current head coaches offices. The assistant coaches’ offices are a little bit bigger, and the head coaches’ offices are significantly larger than their Klotsche Center counterparts, and they overlook the practice floor so they can see who is working and who isn’t.  The coaches would be happy to hear that each suite has a private bathroom; no more quarter-mile trek to the john for our coaches.

recruitingroom

 

Kyle Rechlicz and Rob Jeter would have much larger offices, but those offices also open up to a miscellaneous type room for the program. Joe Rice set it up as a small board room, but it could just as easily be used as a recruiting room for the coaching staffs.

It also overlooks the basketball courts down low, so recruits can get an eyeful of where they’ll spend their time honing their craft.

Informal Lounge

 

Below the coaches offices, on the ground floor, is the team suites. Coming down the stairs from the atrium, players will find a long, informal lounge where they can take part in their favorite activities like playing video games, watching Breaking Bad, and getting freaked out by that laughing baby in the sun on Teletubbies while they wait for practice to begin.

Like the recruiting room, this space can be configured any number of ways to best serve the program. Beyond the lounge lie each team’s locker room, as well as laundry space and two 25-person theaters for team meetings, game film and far too much Netflix. Unfortunately we don’t have the theaters or laundry room to show you. We do have this, though:

Locker Room

 

Significantly larger than the current space in the Klotsche Center, the identical locker rooms in the men’s and women’s basketball suites each feature their own private lounge space, showers and lockers. This, of course, is the locker space.

The wall features a mural of the 3,000 students at the Wisconsin game a couple years ago, but the real draw of the room is the overhead lighting system, which shows the Panther head logo both as shaping the fixture and casting a shadow on the floor.

Hall to courts

 

Not a whole lot to talk about here, to be honest. The basketball players use the locker rooms and lounges for all times they aren’t playing basketball. For times they are playing basketball, there’s a perfect little place right beyond those doors…

lockerroomentry

 

Now this is what I’m talking about. That gold hall is coming from where you just left; the practice floor itself features two courts and soundproof walls with all of our championships listed on the wall (and hopefully retired numbers). The far distance features a weight room and training suite on the ground floor and a full Hall of Fame overlooking the practice floor with doors to the atrium.

Main Gym (1)

 

Another look at the practice floor space from the main floor’s northeast corner. You can see the same stuff in the distance, although this picture doesn’t feature newer things like a full-length window set in the Hall of Fame and Atrium overlooking the floor.

weight room

 

This is the look of the weight room when it was initially on the first floor, overlooking the courts. It is now on the same floor as the courts, like it is at Duke University’s practice facility.

Now that you have seen most everything inside the practice facility, let’s go back and see what’s up on the second floor.

alumniboardroom

Our final picture shows another possible usage of the space inside our new practice facility. The university lacks a true, modern dedicated space for entertaining large groups. The Wisconsin Room and Ballroom in the Union are often too large for some types of events; partitioning walls reduce their capacity, but we thought that it would be an excellent use of space to include what we’re calling the “Alumni Board Room” in the final plans for our practice facility.

The facility includes space for 250 people in a press conference-type setting. The next time we hire a basketball coach, AD or Chancellor, this will be the perfect space in which to do that. It features full-sized public restrooms and a full-size kitchen, so the university can also use the space to entertain guests. I’m thinking of the Tip-Off Luncheon, Full Court Club lunches and Hall of Fame ceremonies.

All in all, we put this together to illustrate the fact that if the university is willing to take the student segregated fee money and put enough of it down to make this facility happen, great things are not far behind. Having the best facility in the country has major advantages in recruiting and training, and that will lead to a far better product on the floor that will sell many more tickets and act as the best marketing tool for the university.

The $35 million facility may seem daunting, but that cost could be cut down considerably if we sought out a partner who is also looking for new digs.

Herb Kohl, former US Senator and owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, is at the tail end of his amazing life. The man has done more for this state than anyone else in the past 50 years, and he’s owed gratitude from us all. His last wish is very public: he is willing to sell the Bucks, but he wants to ensure the NBA franchise remains in Milwaukee long-term.

The university can make this pitch to Kohl: kick in the money, and the Bucks can also find space here. I didn’t mention it before, but that $35 million practice facility features space for the men’s basketball and women’s basketball Milwaukee Panthers, but also space for the Milwaukee Bucks. All it takes is Herb Kohl to sign on, and the facility is already well on its way to becoming a reality.

Herb Kohl would spend the money because the Bucks would jump to having the best practice facility in the NBA, something he can afford to pay for in part out of his own pocket that also helps the city’s public university. The university gets the facility that vaults it to the upper echelon of college basketball, with our players rubbing elbows and playing pickup games with NBA players instead of whoever is in the Klotsche Pavilion. And the students get a dynamite basketball program out of it, one of the best ways to enhance student life and create a connection to the university for them to hold onto for the rest of their lives.

This facility isn’t about fixing our current space issues, although it does that. It’s about foreseeing all of our problems we can run into in the next 50 years in our bell cow sport and taking care of a large part of it in one fell swoop.

I like to call this plan “Cobb-proofing.” Ric Cobb was our coach who was the bridge between Steve Antrim and Bo Ryan, and he was god-awful in his tenure. Cobb couldn’t coach, but in this facility, he would have been a winner. That’s just the kind of elevation this program would get from building this facility. We are “Cobb-proofing” the program for decades.

Now it’s up to the university. Do they want to take care of the problem in front of their face? Or do they want to take care of many problems we could come across for decades?

I hate to be so cliche, but…the ball is in their court.

 

2 Comments

  1. Nic

    September 16, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    Great work as usual, Joe! Get a great practice facility, get better recruits, win more games, build fan interest, THEN solicit donations for an on-campus arena.

    Jimmy… just a suggestion, but could you change the color of type you use for your links? I had no idea there was a link in the first sentence until I hovered my arrow over it by chance.

  2. Joe Rice

    September 18, 2013 at 3:05 am

    Thanks much for the feed back Nic.

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