UWM Basketball: Under Supported and Under Fire

Below is an editorial that was originally submitted to The Journal-Sentinel upon my learning of the termination of Coach Rob Jeter by UWM. Instead The Journal-Sentinel decided to utilize an editorial by James E. Causey entitled Rob Jeter Helped Black Boys, and rightfully so. I feel, however, that what my editorial had to say should be known publicly in defense of my friend and client, Robert Jeter.  I have a thorough understanding of what has transpired and with Coach Jeter’s permission; I am submitting this to my readers for their consideration:

UW-Milwaukee PanthersRob Jeter played college basketball in Wisconsin, has only coached in Wisconsin and carries an iconic name in Wisconsin. As head basketball coach at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (“UWM”), Jeter amassed 20 victories in four of the last seven seasons and has been invited to four post-season tournaments in the last six seasons, including winning the 2011 Horizon League championship and the 2014 Horizon League Tournament title. He displayed a great deal of integrity and has been actively involved in the Milwaukee Community. He was a great face for public recognition of UWM. On March 17, 2016, UWM announced that Coach Jeter has been terminated without cause.

These accomplishments were reached despite the fact that Coach Jeter was working within an environment that was in seemingly continuous turmoil and upheaval. During Coach Jeter’s tenure as head basketball coach there were no less than six (6) regular and interim Athletic Directors (“ADs”). Also during this time the working environment within the Athletic Department had allegedly become counterproductive and openly hostile with a number of coaches and employees leaving an athletic department plagued with low morale.

It’s true that UWM was banned from post-season play in 2014-2015 for failing to meet NCAA Academic Progress Rate requirements (“APR”) in a four year window from 2009/2010-2012/2013. The APR, as defined by the NCAA, is a team based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete each term. Unfortunately, the blame for the APR failure was placed squarely on the shoulders of Coach Jeter. The UWM APR issues, however, were totally attributable to missteps by the UWM Athletic Department and even the NCAA noted that the APR scores were directly related to administrative dysfunction, including insufficient support for student-athletes in the area of academic advising. The ban could have been avoided and Coach Jeter’s reputation untarnished if Coach Jeter and his student-athletes were provided the proper academic help and administrative support. There was no sharing of responsibility for the post-season ban by the Athletic Department or UWM. During Coach Jeter’s tenure there were no NCAA recruiting scandals or sanctions, only the post-season ban.

Even though UWM was faced with a one-year post-season ban, all student-athletes returned to the basketball program, which clearly indicates the players’ commitment and loyalty to Coach Jeter and UWM. Coach Jeter was successful in recruiting despite the APR ban. Since the post-season ban the basketball team reported two perfect APR scores.

Irrespective of the current AD’s view of Coach Jeter, this is a program that should have been saluted for its performance despite a lack of support. A foreign basketball trip was met with negativity. The AD was a no-show for the Senior NCAA Tournament dinner.  There was no media guide for 2014/2015. Key supporters and boosters were driven away. But yet, these student-athletes performed in the most difficult of circumstances.

“Since when is college about limiting opportunities?” Akeem Springs, the Panthers’ second-leading scorer and rebounder, tweeted. “If it wasn’t for the love for my coaches and teammates, I would leave.”

Reading the AD’s comments got me thinking: Shouldn’t these students have been rewarded with a post-season tournament for the mere fact that they stayed and endured? What does this say to future recruits? Are these student-athletes going to stick around without their mentor and sole advocate? And what does it say about UWM that they tolerate such negative publicity from their AD?

Perhaps the termination process was misdirected.

Martin J. Greenberg is a Milwaukee Real Estate and Sports Lawyer, and an adjunct law professor at the Marquette University Law School, who has represented UWM Athletic Department employees, including Coach Jeter.