University should approach Bucks for joint practice facility

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

Man, do we need a practice facility. The current situation is beyond repair. Without a new building, there’s no end in sight for our problems getting players. We’re taking care of our game facility problem, but we’re still going to struggle with a practice situation that impedes our ability to get better at basketball through instruction, practice and bringing in new players. If we don’t fix it, we may be stuck in our current level for a long time.

Was I talking from the perspective of a Milwaukee Panthers fan? Or was I speaking from the perspective of a Milwaukee Bucks fan? Perhaps the question should be this:

Does it matter?

Readers of PantherU have long been familiar with our facility problems, since I’ve been railing about it for about as long as PantherU has existed. For those who aren’t familiar, here’s the short version (this is short for me):

The Panthers practice situation is the worst in Division I. This is the only program that doesn’t have its own private practice space, instead sharing the gym with the rest of Milwaukee Athletics as well as the club sports program and intramural sports. The student body, recognizing the need for basketball facilities, overwhelmingly approved a $25 fee in spring of 2010 to fund such a facility (or part of an on-campus game facility in which the team could practice). The fee will eventually collect $25 million, or maybe more if the full-time student enrollment grows. This fee has been collected since fall 2010, standing at several million. With the university gaining naming rights to the downtown Arena and the Bucks building their arena elsewhere, the $25 fee fund is being directed at a basketball practice facility.

That facility was a part of the 2015-17 biennial budget for the State of Wisconsin. The plan is for the state to pay the upfront cost of construction, with the student fee repaying taxpayers until the state’s end is fulfilled by the university. Governor Scott Walker proposed in his budget plan that the state limit new construction, and the practice facility was tabled until the 2017-19 biennial budget. With the increase in cost, a project that was hovering around $12 million is likely to now hover around $14 million. It’s still an incredible move that benefits a coaching staff that fights negative recruiting about our practice situation and the perception that the university doesn’t care for basketball. This practice facility would eliminate both problems, two of our biggest in recruiting. In short, this practice facility will open Milwaukee Basketball to recruiting a new level of player. A program that usually fits between 75-175 in the RPI would rise. I have an idea that would help the Panthers grow even more.

As demonstrated, the university continues to collect the $25 student fee. That fee is collected from every full-time student, every segregated fee-paying student, and it is collected twice a year.

Milwaukee Athletics would eventually have enough to pay for the arena without a dime coming from taxpayers, but with the rising cost of construction, the university (and state) need to get the best bang for the students’ buck. The best way to do that while involving just the state and university is for the state to pay the money up front in the budget and be paid back over time until the taxpayers have a net zero cost to them.

Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Bucks have hired J.P. Cullen to construct a brand new practice facility for the team. Slated to go next to their new arena, the Bucks are required by the agreement with the city to have shovels in the ground by July. They plan on spending $25-30 million of their own money to put up the building, which would rank among the best in the NBA.

It’s a cool idea. But why not consider putting together a significantly better package that will benefit both teams at a high level?

We know the positives for UWM – just practicing in the same building as the Bucks would be an enormous boost for the team in recruiting. Association with the professional Bucks brand strengthens ties for the university with the team and all their corporate sponsors. The university would be able to put together a university that could challenge or even surpass the NCAA’s gold standard $40 million brand new practice facility at the University of Utah. That would vault Milwaukee Panthers Basketball to incredible heights for a team coming out of the Horizon League.

It’s not just us, though – the Bucks would have huge reasons to consider such a move, perhaps even this late in the game.

  • The Bucks would get as much as $25 million for the facility. Their plan for $25-30 million would need a bit of expansion since you’d be accommodating another team, but the team would be able to tout a higher cost while actually spending less. If the Bucks still wanted to spend $25-30 million, they would now be putting together a facility that would be better than any in the world,
  • Free agency would get a boost. The NBA is a numbers game. Players are interested in numbers, and the proposed facility would be the biggest and best palace in the NBA. That’s nothing to shake a stick at. Not to mention that the facility would be on a campus of 28,000 students. Over 15,000 of them are female. Would close proximity to college girls help recruit fickle NBA free agents who may miss being the kings on their college campus? You tell me.
  • The Bucks will be able to tout their commitment to the community. UWM hit a roadblock with the governor in getting the facility into the budget. The Bucks would be able to save money and also help the university – the most important economic driver in southeast Wisconsin – not just fix their practice facility problem but destroy it. Such an incredible practice facility could help lead the athletic department to be financially independent, since the level of player coming to UWM would lead to a much better team, selling a lot more tickets. But what am I talking about…the community! NBA Cares!
  • Many Bucks employees, both players and front office personnel, live closer to the East Side than the new arena. The new practice facility would be just a few blocks from Lake Drive, where several NBA players (Bucks included) have made their home over the years. The facility would be much closer to Whitefish Bay and Shorewood, affluent suburbs that offer a place for Bucks personnel to make their home.
  • Moving the practice facility to the East Side, which will never be taxed, would allow the Bucks to use that space by the arena for more private development. That’s more private development to make more money for the Bucks owners and their investor buddies.

A problem that the Bucks might not recognize with their current plan is that the practice facility will be in the middle of a quagmire on non-game days. The Bucks would be trying to entice free agents to come to a lesser building that’s surrounded by nothing going on for 300 days a year. A joint facility would be much better, much bigger, and anchored on a 28,000-student campus in the vibrant year-round East Side.

At the very least, it’s worth talking about.

Perhaps it’s too late. Construction does have to begin on the new facility for the Bucks this summer at the latest, and the city and team have already hammered out details on it. Maybe there’s too much red tape to get going by July. Maybe I should have written this a year ago. If that’s the case, it’s too bad – we’re still on track to build a high-major level practice facility, the Bucks are still going to have their dream area. Maybe it’s just too late.

If it’s not, though, let’s sit down and talk. It would be foolish to avoid pooling our resources together for a facility that would benefit both sides far more than their current plans ever could.

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