Lake Country Publications Sports Director JR Radcliffe provides tidbits and details from the Lake Country prep sports scene to the Wisconsin sports world at large. His weekly column presents exclusive interviews, commentaries and observations.
Like most journalists who have had the privilege to cover the basketball state tournaments in Wisconsin, I love getting a slice of Ian’s Pizza, walking up and down State Street, fraternizing at the Nitty Gritty and watching games courtside at the beautiful Kohl Center.
But if all of that were taken away at the tournament were relocated to Green Bay … well, I’d be just fine with that, too. In fact, I say let’s do it.
Much has been made about a potential shift north for the annual showcases, brought about because of a looming scheduling conflict with the University of Wisconsin hockey program for upcoming seasons.
Most everyone will tell you the tournament needs to stay in Madison, the state capital and centerpiece of Wisconsin college athletics. But just about every argument boils down to the same premise: Madison is the right place because of tradition. Tradition is not always practical.
(Gary D'Amato presents excellent counterpoint here.)
If the Kohl Center is not available (the WIAA and University of Wisconsin could still work out a schedule whereby the tourney would remain there), I see no other reason for the state’s organizing body of athletics to stay. Green Bay would offer better parking, potentially cheaper hotel options, plenty of athletics history (such as Lambeau Field across the street from the Resch Center) and, most importantly, a great facility for the games themselves.
I realize the UW-Fieldhouse has played host to some incredible games over the years, but that place doesn’t work anymore for a state tournament. The bathroom facilities and uncomfortable seating alone would leave countless fans disappointed with the experience. Just because tradition lives there doesn’t mean the games have to.
The Alliant Energy Center in Madison presents a similar venue, an outdated building that won’t be able to handle the demands of the tourney (though the parking, at least, is much better). It sits nowhere near the aforementioned nuances of Madison, such as State Street, and would suck away the atmosphere pro-Madison advocates cling to. The tourney might as well move to Titletown, which can provide a more communal atmosphere in addition to the ample parking and affordability.
Nicholas Kartos, who covers all sports for the Wisconsin Sports Network, pointed out that recurring public address announcements at the boys tournament pushed for spectators to park at the Alliant and take a shuttle to the Kohl, thus alleviating parking concerns.
The idea is a good one, until you figure the $6 to park and $5 per person to ride the bus might cost a family of four $26 just to get to the Kohl Center, while the crowded lots around the Kohl itself were $10. With the spotlight on Madison and its late push to keep the tournament, that doesn’t exactly seem like a gesture to enhance the fan experience.
Milwaukee King coach Jim Gosz, never one to mince words, also supports a move to Green Bay.
“I’d be the first one up in Green Bay; I think they’d do a great job,” he said after his team lost to Germantown in the state final. “Walking along State Street, I don’t think anybody knew there was a state tournament going on. Maybe a change is good to make this a Final Four experience with the town embracing it. If Madison doesn’t want us, come on, Green Bay, let’s go.”
Madison will have you believe that it does want the tournament. The tourism bureau – in a move that I can’t recall seeing in the past – issued a press release and put forth a series of links on its web sites promoting deals for hotels and restaurants for tourney-goers.
There was also some colorful commentary from UW Deputy Athletic Director Sean Frazier in the Wisconsin State Journal after it became apparent that Green Bay had developed an attractive package for the WIAA.
“What we're dealing with now is (WIAA executive director) Dave Anderson’s personal campaign to move this championship to Green Bay for reasons I don't know,” 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.”
It reads like sour grapes. It reads like the university just assumed the WIAA would always want to call Madison home and hadn’t considered the possibility of another city swooping in with an arena, an offer to produce affordable hotel costs and use neighboring Brown County Arena to house a “basketball experience event” to supplement the games themselves.
Green Bay doesn’t have the state tourney tradition … yet. But tradition is cultivated over years of moments and memories, and just because we’d need a buffer window to establish that new sentiment shouldn’t be reason to stand pat. Twenty years from now, Green Bay will be synonymous with the best in boys basketball.
I challenge the idea that kids play basketball in their driveway dreaming of Madison. Sure, they dream of the state tournament and hitting the big shot, and maybe it’s cool to think about playing in the home of the Wisconsin Badgers. But the games, the crowds and the buildup are still special. Fans of basketball across the state will still make a pilgrimage if it’s within their means. Restaurants and hotels will still be abuzz with fans and team personnel.
The kids, I would wager, aren’t likely to care where the state championship is played at all, and they’re the ones who matter. Is it a bummer for adults who can see a series of Madison memories in their mind’s eye? Perhaps. But they’re not the ones playing the games.
Other than a city “where it’s always been played,” Madison doesn’t have a leg up on Green Bay. So let’s go north.
Pictured: Members of the Germantown boys baskebtall team prepare for what might be the final state championship game at the Kohl Center in Madison (Photo: Peter Zuzga)