Happy April, everyone! Enjoying the great college sports abyss that is post-March Madness?
To fill the hole, we delve in into the traditional Wisconsin rights of spring. Easter egg hunts. Watching the flowers bloom. Analyzing the minutiae of every spring football practice. Sun-bathing in 50-degree weather.
One of the most hallowed of all annual Wisconsin spring traditions is speculating if, when, and how Wisconsin could bring back its baseball team.
The history of how Wisconsin’s baseball team departed the mortal coil has been studied at great length and need not be duplicated here. For those interested, Andy Baggot did a mild dive in 2011 and a comprehensive dive four years later. The Daily Cardinal got theirs in last year. So did Sconnie Sports Talk.
It was the last one that got me thinking deeply about how America’s pastime could return to the hallowed fields of Madison and, after what appears to be several too many soda pops, the solution came to me.
The answer to this very sticky question is quite simple.
Cash. Cold, straight cash.
Cash solves everything, if piled high enough. The pile is important, however. As our friends at SST noted, a few years ago, a group of boosters pledged $50 million to bring back baseball and Wisconsin said no.
This disappointed group of boosters made several mistakes.
- Mistake No. 1: They made the offer in pledges and not in giant bags of actual cash, preferably the kind with money symbols on them.
- Mistake No. 2: The boosters got pledges from men and women (though I’m guessing this was a mostly male group) who were also pledged to pay for other things, therefore risking the great biblical conundrum of robbing St. Peter to pay St. Paul.
- Mistake No. 3, the most critical of all: They did not pile that cash up high enough.
To this group of boosters, I propose the following. Let me be your front man.
You do what you do best: gather piles
and piles and piles and piles of green (don’t forget the sacks). Let me do the talking.
As far as the green stuff goes, here’s what we need, boys and girls (again, mainly boys):
D-I schools are capped at 11.7 scholarships for their baseball team (nope, I didn’t know that either).
Baggot and others who’ve asked say that endowed scholarships that also cover the full cost of attendance are (on the high end) running about $750,000. For 11.7 scholarship players, that equates to $8.76 million dollars.
Travel, coaches salaries, gloves, balls, bats, dip tins—these things all cost money. Minnesota’s program cost $3.3 million, which included $1.2 million in debt service on Siebert Field. Taking out the debt service and assuming that costs will only continue to rise, we’re talking about $2.5 million annually for program sustainment.
Title IX Balance
First and foremost, this thing ain’t happening unless it complies with Title IX, which means scholarship balance AND a few additional program sustainment costs. (Auth. note: don’t bother with complaining about Title IX in the comments—I am a big fan.)
We already know Wisconsin is the place for women’s sports. Badgers fans are already selling out volleyball matches and ice hockey games for our nationally ranked women’s teams. While these programs (just like, cough, cough, baseball) are going to be net revenue negative, that doesn’t mean they can’t be fan favorites.
We know we need about 12 scholarships to balance the baseball team. We can get there a bunch of different ways, but this is my favorite pairing:
- Women’s varsity rifle: Wisconsin likes a sport that it can succeed in while recruiting a local base. Ohio State and Akron are the only Great Lakes region schools with a Division-I varsity rifle program. I am supremely confident that a Wisconsin varsity rifle team could draw a big, cardinal wall around the rather Second Amendment-friendly upper Midwest. Added benefit: Shootin’ Bucky would be at least my third favorite Bucky variant. Scholarships added: 3.6.
- Women’s nordic skiing: How on earth does Wisconsin not already have a D-I nordic ski team? UW-Green Bay does. This seems like a no-brainer. Scholarships added: 6.3.
We’ll call it close enough on the scholarship balance. Assume $2 million annually for programmatic support costs, and this looks like a cool $4 million annually.
These ball players gotta play ball somewhere. Siebert Field in Minneapolis cost $7.2 million back in 2013. Ohio State’s Bill Davis Stadium - Nick Swisher Field (YES) was about $5 million back in the early 1990s (with subsequent renovations paid for by everyone’s favorite slugger about a decade or so later). Bart Kaufman Field at Indiana, a joint baseball-softball complex, was built for $19 million back in 2013.
Let’s go big on this one and build a complex that can also house the Single-A minor league team we’re going to buy after all of this is done (say hello to your Madison Walk-Ons). Call it $25 million bought and sold. We’re paying cash, so no nasty lingering debt service on the books.
Here’s the tab, kids. Settle this thing up while I pull the car around.
One-Time Costs: $8.76 million (scholarship endowments) + $25 milion (rad new stadium) = $33.76 million
Ten-Year Sustainment: $25 million (baseball team) + $40 million (Shootin’ Bucky and Nordic Bucky) = $65 million.
To do this thing for 10 years is going to cost $98.76 million. Let’s round up to an easy $100 million. Heck, that doesn’t even buy an All-Star corner infielder these days.
Let’s do this.