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A guy, a building and an angry state capital

02/16/2012, 11:00pm CST
By Nicholas Kartos

“I am just a guy trying to rent a building.”

That was what WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson told us at our most recent WBCA boarding meeting in late January.  

And with that, I knew we should start booking hotel rooms for Green Bay in 2013.  

When you take the emotion and history out of it, it was probably an easy choice.  

My personal opinion of the whole situation is that the city of Madison took the WIAA state tournaments for granted and UW is too busy trying to be a collegiate athletics powerhouse to care about high school sports.  Green Bay simply took advantage of the situation by putting forth the best proposal.

And as first broke by a local Madison newspaper's website, the tournament is heading up to Titletown.

But putting Madison vs Green Bay aside for a bit, what amazes me about the whole thing is regardless of your preference it is amazing that the WIAA threw nearly a hundred years of history in the trash and still comes out smelling like roses.  

My take on how it went down

The WIAA had a contract through 2013 to play their state tournaments for basketball in the Kohl Center.  It was UW that notified them to let them know the facility would not be available due to conflicts with hockey.  Furthermore that future years would be in jeopardy due to the Big Ten Hockey tournament and a bid to host the Frozen Four.

This pandora's box was not initiated by the WIAA.  However, big surprise, once that box was open another city was interested in the state tournament and the $5 to $10 million in business it brings to a region.  

I am not privy to know what deal the WIAA was proposed by Green Bay.  But, when you are talking millions of dollars you have to guess the WIAA will come out of this in a good position financially.   They have the mission of providing state tournaments for all sports, not just the ones that are profitable and with the recent downturn of basketball attendance you can't really blame them for trying to maximize this opportunity.

In fact, kudos to them for not making this an issue before.  They could have probably gotten a city to write them a check every five years if they wanted to.

Not only that but they made the fan a priority.  Initially they got Green Bay to guarantee a hotel rate of $100 per night or lower with no minimums.  Eventually they got Madison to put together something similar.  This is after years of fans who enjoy the amazement of making the state tournament followed by the shock of $300 / night hotel rooms and minimum 2 or more night stays.

So that being said, the history of Madison, the tradition was still a huge deal to a lot of people.  But then, came this press release, which basically goes into detail about all the options the WIAA was given by the University of Wisconsin.  All the horrible, terrible options.

Many, including this writer, all of a sudden realized what the WIAA was dealing with.  My worry right away was that UW had thought they outgrew high school sports.  This press release confirmed it and again the WIAA looks like the good guy.

But, to their credit, UW pulled it together and did some good things.  They were the driving force to convince the new Big Ten hockey league to hold their conference tournament at a neutral facility.  However, they could not fix the conflict that existed in 2013 or the desire to host a Frozen Four in 2014 or 2015.  Oh, and they also threw in the contract that they could still displace the tournament for regular season events.  

So that's UW.  In regards to Madison, obviously they don't have control of a university facility.  However, what boggles my mind is how late they came to the party with a decent offer.  They have been reaping the rewards of having this tournament all these years and at the zero hour they finally match some of the elements of the Green Bay offer – namely a cash payment and the hotel thing I mentioned earlier.  

So in the end, with Madison stepping up to the plate with a better offer, the WIAA had everything in front of them.  Ironically, it seems like they had basically the same deal in front of them from each city and it came down to the building the actual games are played in.  In the end, he was just a guy trying to rent a building.  

The Aftermath

There were some great quotes added to Rob Hernandez's story tonight on Madison.com from key Madisonians involved with the negotiations.  I couldn't resist analyzing some of these quotes.

First and foremost, the article starts off with a bang with Wisconsin Deputy Athletic Directory Sean Frazier saying, "What we're dealing with now is Dave Anderson's personal campaign to move this championship to Green Bay for reasons I don't know."

To review, UW broke their contract with the WIAA for the year 2013.  Then they put together the poo poo platter of options for the WIAA.  But it's Dave Anderson's personal campaign.  Um, ok.

He continued, "If we're given the option to review, let's sit down and exchange dialogue," Frazier said. "From my perspective, this deal is already done and signed. And poor Madison is suffering because of an action of an individual and not a board."

You have been negotiating since at least October on this.  How much more dialogue do you need?  You put your best forward and it wasn't good enough.  

Frazier, the New York native, who has spent his last five years in Wisconsin had more, “We've been held hostage on this," noting that the UW always had a good working relationship with Anderson's predecessor, Doug Chickering, who now serves on the Board of Directors for the Madison VCB's Madison Sports Commission. "We've always had a spirit of cooperation. None of this is new."

To me it seemed like the WIAA always gave in to UW on everything.  Moved to the Alliant for girls.  Moved the girls back a week.  Will move the team wrestling to the same weekend as individual wrestling.  It's not cooperation if only one side does the cooperating.  And as I mentioned, I'm huge into the history and tradition so I am fine with that, but you can't be ripping on the WIAA's new leadership if they no longer are willing to be thrown all over Madison and the calendar, just to stay in Madison.

Deb Archer, Preident of the Grater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau had this to say, "If they're choosing to go to Green Bay, we'll be severely disappointed, wildly disappointed. We have a fan base. We welcome the WIAA. We see it as a gamble for them to move an event like this."

So there are no high school sports fans up in the Fox Valley?  The Oshkosh and Green Bay sectionals that have been held at UW-Oshkosh and the Brown County Arena are always packed.  Fans won't be a problem.  Also, I am sure they will also “welcome” the WIAA (and the $5 million they bring in).  I think the history argument is a great one, that many people can sympathize with and get behind, but to act like we're the only place in the state that has basketball fans, might not be the way to go.  

Madison mayor Paul Soglin finally puts it into perspective, “This is disappointing. It points out that there is a new dynamic. As UW athletics and the Big Ten conference grows, old ways of doing things need to be re-examined. The UW can't guarantee the Kohl Center every year in any given decade."

It actually, truly seems like Mayor Soglin gets it.  UW and the Big Ten Conference is the priority and if UW comes out and says that, it softens the blow on them as well.  If Madison wants to have a shot at the tournament in the future (or sectionals or better concerts), they need to either get a new facility or do a major overhaul on the Veterans Memorial Colosseum.

Again, quotes used in the section above can be found in Madison.com's article regarding this issue.

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