16.6.10

STAYING IN THE TOURNAMENT IS HARD. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel evaluates Wisconsin-Milwaukee's sports fortunes since 2005, when the men's basketball team earned a tournament bid and coach Bruce Pearl earned tenure on Rocky Top.

For once, the mid-major school best known for churning out teachers didn't have to take a back seat to anyone - not even the private institution with the storied basketball program a few miles down the road.

Those were heady times, indeed, for UWM.

Five years later, the momentum and goodwill generated by that Sweet 16 appearance have all but disappeared.

The school's athletic department is faced with the double whammy of a growing budget deficit and a drop in fund raising. Pearl now is the head coach at the University of Tennessee, and UWM's basketball program, under coach Rob Jeter, has receded from the national spotlight.

Earlier this month, athletic director George Koonce resigned after a rocky year at the head of the program. The department is expected to begin a search for a replacement soon.

Koonce had been placed on administrative leave in April for what the school called a personnel matter.

So where does UWM go from here?

How will the athletic department - without the revenue generated by a football team and with a basketball team that doesn't come close to selling out its arena - move forward in the face of enormous financial challenges?

Bud Haidet, who retired as athletic director after 21 years in July 2009, said the key to the future was the men's basketball program.

"It's a no-brainer that the men's basketball team needs to succeed in order for a Division 1 program to move forward," he said in a phone interview from his home near Fort Myers, Fla. "My whole plan was to build a total program, very strong at the Division 1 level, and devote as many resources as I could into men's basketball to move it forward.

"Without football, you have to rely on basketball and success there for ticket sales, fund raising, fan and student interest."

Through a spokesman, UWM Chancellor Carlos Santiago turned down several requests to talk about the UWM athletic department.

A successful Milwaukee basketball program is still a successful Horizon League program, Butler's runnerup status to the contrary, and making a capital investment in a near-campus arena to lose less money is going to be difficult for an economist, which Professor Santiago is, to explain. At least nobody is chasing the chimera of football revenues, which would require an even larger subsidy for sports.

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