PantherU

A response to questions posed by Panther fan

I was cruising the internet this morning and came across a question from @mke2chi on the Eunuch board. It was meant to be biting at Amanda Braun, but it brought up two things – first, what’s going on with the student segregated fee, and where is the money coming from to pay for Rob Jeter’s buyout? The post:

Whatever happened to the student fee money for a new on campus arena?  Or was that used for the buyout?

I was going to respond on the board, but then I realized that it was going to be too long for the format. So here it is, my response:

Here’s the background for those who don’t know: in winter 2009-2010, the Student Association (lobbied by George Koonce, Rob Jeter and myself among others) set up an online student vote for whether or not to fund a $25 segregated fee, separate from the athletics fee, to boost the level of the basketball program by building a basketball arena on campus. The online vote turnout was, not surprisingly, much higher than the actual student elections later that April. It also passed by a huge margin, something like 86% to 14%. Students obviously believed that basketball should be taken to the next level, and the thinking at the time was to do that by making an on-campus arena a reality.

Koonce lobbied for the $25 fee.

The fee would be collected over 25 years, at $25 each semester per full-time student (as well as those who are part-time and elect to pay certain optional segregated fees; many do this because it gets them plenty of benefits, most prominent of which being the bus pass). The fee was estimated to collect about $25 million over the course of its run; if you’re thinking that would go down because of the lowering enrollment, think again – estimates included all of the projected enrollment numbers for something like 15 years out.

The facility itself was debated among many. Privately, the coaching staff was perfectly fine with the Arena downtown and preferred we obtain ownership of that and put the money towards updating the building and a practice facility on-campus like the Setzer Pavilion that had recently opened at Wright State. It makes me smile to remember the debates we had; at the time, I had been the drum-banger on getting the arena on campus. George Koonce wanted to put the arena on the south end of the Klotsche Center, taking down the Norris Health Center (whose operations were going to move anyway) and digging down. The most likely plan for that footprint included a 6,000-seat arena that would actually be expandable to 8,000 seats in the future with an investment of roughly $5 million.

Others in the university wanted to see if the arena fee could be used as part of the push to build a new union. For those who don’t know, the UWM Union is the busiest building in Wisconsin – more people pass through its doors every year than any other building. It’s also old, having been built over a few different phases and based on pretty awful architecture (the looks, at least). Maintenance over the years was going to match the cost of a new facility, so the UWM Union staff was engaged in a push to fund a new union at the same time as the arena fee was being pushed. The idea would have Mellencamp Hall and the Union demolished, with the east end of the new Union being a 10,000-seat convocation center that would be the home of the basketball teams (I think we could have talked them down to 8k had this ever come to fruition). Student unions and basketball arenas have lots of similar amenities, so the idea was that costs could be cut – and school spirit would be built – by having the busiest building in the state include the basketball team’s game facility. The Bookstore would also serve as a pro shop for the arena. The Gasthaus would double up as a restaurant suite overlooking the arena. Suites could double as conference rooms and entertaining space for any number of ideas. Normal building facilities like kitchens, bathrooms, maintenance rooms, the new underground parking garage, all could be shared by an arena and union. This one didn’t happen because the investment in a new union would have been something like $75 million at the time, and students were unwilling to let that pass.

Joe Rice designed an arena by North Avenue for his thesis.

For the record, I still believe the ideal space for Milwaukee Basketball is not in the Arena. It’s also not downtown – it’s along North Avenue, where architecture alum Joe Rice put together a pretty incredible architecture thesis that I wrote about (I then compared campus to downtown in a later post). The combination of the student population within walking distance (15k on the East Side, 400 across the river in Riverview, 700 next door in Cambridge Commons), accessibility and parking (plenty of ways out of the area) and amenities (could you imagine the bar scene on North Ave on Saturdays when there’s a game? Good lord) make it a worthy end-game for the university’s athletics program. It’s also too expensive to be a legitimate idea.

Which is why, in 2012, the university suspended the $25 basketball arena fee. I had been won over by the basketball coaching staff – remember the debates I mentioned between the coaches and myself about the facilities? Well, they won me over right around Christmas 2011, and I started really looking at the more pressing problem – our practice space. The coaches believed we should build something like Wright State’s facility. The Klotsche Center Pavilion was already finished, so the opportunity had passed to build something like UIC and Green Bay’s shared-use facilities. Over the course of the year, I recognized something – that for not a huge cost, the university could take its program to a level that the Horizon League couldn’t contain.

The gold standard for college basketball arenas is either the Yum! Center at Louisville or the Matthew Knight Arena at Oregon. Louisville’s arena cost $238 million, but it seats 20,000. Knight Arena cost $227 million and seats only 12,364 – obviously a lot more dollars spent per seat. The point I’m making, of course, is that there’s no way we could get there. Not unless I somehow came into $500 million or so.

The gold standard for practice facilities, however, is Utah’s brand new $40 million facility. The thing is gorgeous. Back in 2012, it was Kentucky’s $30 million Joe Craft Center. UWM can never come up with $230 million, but it absolutely could come up with $30 million. You know why? Because we’re 5/6ths there with the fee – well, almost, because they spent a bit of the cash on updating the Klotsche Center and putting together the practice facility proposal. We started making the arguments in early 2012 that the spirit of the fee would be better served by building a practice facility. Remember, students passed it to get a better basketball team.

So in the summer of 2012 the Student Association suspended the basketball arena fee so that it could be restructured into an “athletics facilities fee.”

My out-of-the-box plan included converting the Alumni House into dorms for hoops players and other students.

Eventually, I penned a post on PantherU where I argued that the university could spend about $50 million and vault the basketball program to an incredible level. That plan, let me tell you, would destroy the competition. We’d be in the best possible conference in about 15 seconds, the program would easily be a top-25 program. When I’d talk to fans who wanted Rob Jeter gone (a great many), I would use the term “Jeter-proof” – the idea that the facilities are so good, even an average coach would be taking us to the tournament and winning games there on a regular basis.

The fee passed in the spring 2010 semester and began collection that fall. The 2012-13 academic year didn’t include the fee because of the restructuring, but it was reinstated for fall 2013 and has been collecting ever since. It will continue to do so until it’s been collected for 25 years, but I’m hoping by that time either the students extend it indefinitely or the program is so far in the black that they free up students from the burden of supporting athletics with segregated fees. That’s my personal endgame if I were AD – a plan to endow every scholarship in the athletics program and keep the students from having to spend money on athletics.

I’m not sure whether or not the fee has been used on the minor upgrades at the Hank. I do know that Amanda Braun absolutely has fought hard for the basketball practice facility, and I’ve heard from those inside the AD that she was disappointed when the chancellor decided not to try and lobby the governor to change his mind on funding the up-front costs for the building (Governor Walker made it a point to not include new construction in his 2015-17 budget proposal, the state legislature agreed). Remember, the $25 fee doesn’t yet have enough to fund the facility. It will have the money in the early 2020’s (I believe 2022) to cover the full cost, but by then the cost of the facility will rise due to inflation. It’s already more expensive today than it would have been just a couple years ago.

The facility proposal put out by the university in April 2014 is remarkably similar to the design by alum Joe Rice for the Black and Gold Club the previous fall. I had asked Rice to show us what a $35 million facility would look like – at the time it would have been the gold standard in all NCAA – and the design he came up with was so nice that it looks like the university totally cribbed it. The reason theirs costs a fraction of his design is because Rice’s design digs into the ground – a huge cost – as well as includes a banquet space that could be used by the university for all sorts of functions, athletics and otherwise. Whether or not those events in that space are tied to basketball, people who attend are bashed in the face repeatedly by the basketball brand.

Alum Joe Rice designed this for the Black and Gold Club.

The aforementioned decision by the governor puts us into next spring as a time for the university to get its ducks in a row and hope they will accept putting the costs up front for the facility. If they do, I believe the timeline would put the opening of the facility to summer 2019. That might not be 100% accurate. Someone whose name isn’t mud in the athletic department should probably get a hold of Braun and ask.

There are benefits to the delay. The facility proposal is for a mostly bare-bones project, with all the extras being paid for with donations over the top. Jenny Gryniewicz has been fundraising for this facility, and you’re welcome to give to the facility, just shoot Jenny an e-mail and get it started.

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Rob Jeter is owed pay through June 2017 at roughly $452,000 per year.

As for the money that was used for the buyout? That’s a good question. It’s incredible that in all her interviews, no one has asked Amanda Braun how she’s paying for the firing. By my tally, UWM owes Rob Jeter, Chad Boudreau and Chris Hill roughly $630,000. Hill has something like 5 months left, Boudreau has 10 and Jeter is through June 2017. Add that to the $350k for Jordan and $300k for the pool of coaches, and that’s about $1.3 million in salary. How the heck are we paying that? David Nicholas isn’t paying for it – or is he? This is a guy who was brought into the program by Bruce Pearl, not Rob Jeter. He supported Jeter, to be sure, but it’s very unusual for the top donor at a university to be so vicious in a public statement. He’s pulled his support as long as Braun is here. That doesn’t seem to me to be just about a coaching change. I think there’s something else there.

Braun told players, coaches and players’ parents that the reason she canceled the 2015 summer foreign trip was because it “wouldn’t look good.” That trip was to be funded entirely by private money and income from a buy game in the 2014-15 season. It would have had an incredible positive effect on the student-athletes. Yet here we are, with Braun spending something like $700,000 to pay some guys to not coach next season – on top of another staff. If the trip “wouldn’t look good,” how does it look to pay $700k of unemployment for a handful of guys when their contracts only had them here through next season anyways? How does it look after the 2015 state budget round, with UWM taking roughly $30 million of the $250 million budget cuts passed by the state government last summer? It’s not a stretch by any means to say that the public perception of intercollegiate athletics overspending is worse in 2016 than it was in early 2015 when she canceled the trip.

Amanda Braun has said that part of her reasoning was that coaches are not kept in the final year of their contract, which is why a change needed to be made now rather than next year. This is false, and basic research exposes that quickly. Scott Nagy, formerly of South Dakota State and now of Wright State, was on an annual contract at SDSU – he said as much in an interview with the News-Gazette in Champaign after his hiring by WSU:

“I could have easily retired there. Even thought I was on 21 one-year deals — they don’t have any long-term deals — I was probably going to be able to be the coach at South Dakota State as long as I wanted.”Scott Nagy

Speaking of Scott Nagy, how would you compare Wright State’s hiring to ours? No one has a crystal ball, so no one can say with 100% certainty that Scott Nagy will perform much better at Wright State than LaVall Jordan will at Milwaukee. I certainly believe Jordan will succeed, because I support our basketball coach no matter what.

LaVall Jordan has a high upside but he's unproven.

LaVall Jordan has a high upside but he’s unproven.

But say you’re a basketball actuary, and you were assessing which coach between the two would succeed. One is a brand new head coach. He’s young, appealing, and has a strong pedigree, having played and coached for an excellent program, working there in later years with one of the greatest coaches of our generation. He helped put together a high-major team that went to the national title game, and has a reputation for coaching guards well, including one who was an All-American and is in the NBA. The other is an established head coach. He spent 20 years at a school without the high-major competitive advantage and he won there. At first, he succeeded in Division II on a high level, then after a difficult transition period to Division I took that school to new heights, and is coming off a run of five straight postseason appearances (3 NCAA, 1 NIT, 1 CBI). He recruited, coached, and developed a guard who made it to the NBA, all at a mid-major.

How was he able to do this? In part because Nagy had an athletic director with patience. Justin Sell started the job in May 2009, right after the Jackrabbits had finished their provisional period in Division I. In the five years leading up to Sell’s hiring, Scott Nagy’s Jackrabbits went 46-103 (.309). Sell didn’t fire him. In 2009-10, Sell watched Nagy go 14-16. That was good enough for a 4th-place finish in the Summit League. The next season? Nagy finally finished above .500, going 19-12 in 2010-11. But the Jackrabbits only finished fifth in the Summit League and 187 in the RPI. This was their high-water mark of the Division I era.

Scott Nagy had a very successful five year run to end his time at South Dakota State.

Sell could have fired Nagy in 2009, when he took over the job. Or he could have fired him in 2010, when he had a sixth-straight losing season. Or the following year, when he finished 19-12, 5th in the Summit League, 187th in the RPI in a conference that was 21st. Isn’t this essentially what Amanda Braun just did? Except Sell’s first year at SDSU was awful. Braun’s first year at Milwaukee featured an NCAA Tournament appearance. In each AD’s second year, the basketball team finished 14-16. Milwaukee’s was different because they were banned from the postseason for performance in the APR, a decision that the NCAA said was due to administrative screw-up and not Rob Jeter or his staff. The third year for Jeter under Braun was eerily similar to Nagy’s third year working for Sell: 20-13, 5th in the Horizon League, 173rd in the RPI in a conference that finished 18th.

Justin Sell stuck with Scott Nagy, and it paid off. The next five years, Nagy won 27, 25, 19, 24 and 26 games. They went to three NCAA Tournaments, an NIT and a CBI. Amanda Braun fired Rob Jeter. Our future is unknown, although I support LaVall Jordan and believe he will succeed. Nagy isn’t the only example of a coach succeeding after years of not doing so (Jeter, by the way, is still just two years removed from his second NCAA Tournament, only the fourth in school history). Last month I posted two different threads on my message board where I asked fans whether or not they would fire Coach #1 or Coach #2 after their 11th season, as Braun did to Jeter.

Amanda Braun pulled the trigger and it cost UWM in many ways.

Amanda Braun pulled the trigger and it cost UWM in many ways.

Back to the earlier question. If you’re a basketball actuary, who do you pick? Is there anyone here who would have picked Scott Nagy over LaVall Jordan? While Jordan’s resume was similar to a bunch of coaches who reportedly interviewed for our position, it is damn near identical to the one Rob Jeter handed Bud Haidet in 2005. I’m totally for that – why wouldn’t I be? I was a huge fan of Rob Jeter’s, and I’m behind Jordan 100%. But would you have picked Jordan if Nagy were interested? Scott Nagy has coached 21 seasons and is 410-240 (.631). If you take out SDSU’s provisional years where they were in transition from D-II to D-I, Nagy is 364-137 (.727). He is a coach who was hired inside our own conference – at our own level – and he was never a candidate for our position.

Tell me why.

Dear reader, you know why, and you know it because you know I’ve been banging on this door so much you’ve tuned out everything I’ve said.

LaVall Jordan is going to be great, because I believe in him. I also don’t believe he will be the victim of sabotage like his predecessor, because he is the hire of the person responsible for that sabotage and her job is tied to his performance. He’s going to get all the help he can get from the athletic director. He’s going to have all the support I can give and the same is true for many fans.

LaVall Jordan is unproven, but he deserves every opportunity to succeed.

But that sabotage is inexcusable, and it has everything to do with why an established, successful coach at a mid-major would not even consider our open position and then took another job in the same conference. It also has a lot to do with why the Lubar School of Business might not be the biggest fans of the athletic director at the moment.

LaVall Jordan deserves every opportunity to succeed. We may have growing pains, but those are natural with a coach who hasn’t made substitutions and called timeouts before. I only hope that the fan base has the patience for Jordan that they didn’t have for Rob Jeter. Amanda Braun certainly didn’t.

Then again, we knew that from the start.

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