Priorities, not Eaves source of hockey struggles

first_imgThis weekend, the 1990 National Champion Wisconsin men’s hockey team came back to the Kohl Center for its 25th anniversary celebration and reminded everyone — or at least the people who went to the trouble of showing up — of the Badgers’ storied program history.The problem is, that history has become watered down as of late, especially with the atrocious season currently a long seven weeks away from its painstaking conclusion. If you, like many other people out there, haven’t paid much attention to this year’s Badgers, you’ve only missed two wins since the season began back in October. On the other hand, if you have watched the Badgers, or at least kept track of them this season, you’ve probably lost several years off your life and have become a nihilist in the meantime.That might be an exaggeration. But after this past Friday’s collapse against Minnesota and the tying goal by the Gophers with just two seconds left in regulation Saturday night, it would be understandable if some out there have developed heart disease, or simply just can’t believe in anything anymore because your hopes and dreams keep getting stomped on, until you forget you even had any to begin with.But hey, sometimes teams have bad seasons and sometimes those bad seasons turn out to be the worst ever in the long, illustrious history of a winning program.But firing head coach Mike Eaves will not solve any issues.Because college athletics revolve around money, let’s start with the biggest reason why Eaves will stay. Eaves makes $236,005 per year and his contract runs until 2017. If Barry Alvarez were to part ways with the 13th-year head coach, Eaves would be paid his yearly salary for the next four years, according to the buyout clause in his contract for termination without cause. For math’s sake, let’s just call that roughly $1 million. Sure, the athletic department pulls in a lot of revenue, but its expenses are nearly equal, if not more, every year, and Alvarez and the rest of his clan aren’t going to want to throw away that much money for the next four years.It won’t just be money that the athletic department will be throwing away for the next few years either if it rids itself of Eaves. Regardless of what coach you fire and what sport it is, not too many programs have immediate success. Eaves’s predecessor Jeff Sauer wasn’t fired, but when Eaves took over for Sauer, the Badgers struggled pretty mightily in his first year in 2002-03, winning just 13 games. Success did come, including a national title in 2006, but it took time.If Eaves gets fired, you can bet next year will be another dumpster fire, perhaps with some jet fuel added to the mix. Wisconsin will endure a host of changes with a new guy at the helm and goaltender Joel Rumpel, who has saved the Badgers from disappearing into a black hole this year, will be gone.And for those of you who forget, Jake McCabe and Nic Kerdiles both left early after last season and all but sealed the fate for a losing campaign this season. Those two might not have made Wisconsin into a world beater this year, but they would have at least helped the Badgers contend in the Big Ten. Players leaving early in college hockey is a reality for programs that want to win, and unfortunately that happened to Eaves at the same time as he lost nine seniors a year ago.Then there’s the fact that Alvarez will never fire anyone, especially not someone with such strong ties to Wisconsin as a player and coach. In this past week’s Varsity magazine, Alvarez essentially spoke to Eaves’ job security, calling him an “excellent coach” doing a job that he can’t begin to contemplate, with players leaving early compounding the difficulty of putting together a sound roster year-in and year-out.And that’s just the problem. It’s not Eaves. It’s Alvarez. Under his watch as a coach and now athletic director, Wisconsin has risen to bigger and better heights in both football and basketball, which is great for the fans and athletic department. But after Wisconsin won the national title in men’s hockey in his first year as full-time athletic director, the Badgers’s men’s hockey team has since fallen into the shadows behind football and basketball.You’ll see Alvarez and his recognizable presence on the Camp Randall scoreboard’s video screen every football Saturday and you’ll see him roaming the basketball sidelines for many games. But when is the last time Alvarez made an appearance at a hockey game?This past weekend, Associate Athletic Director Jason King was on hand for both hockey games handing out game sticks to the gameday sponsor both Friday and Saturday night, which is usually Alvarez’s duty during football games. Granted, Alvarez is busy, overseeing a $100 million dollar sports operation and 23 varsity sports, but he rarely makes his presence known at men’s hockey games like he does for men’s basketball and football. The one thing that he has made known is that he hasn’t made hockey a priority.People can clamor all they want about firing Eaves and there are some legitimate complaints there. However, a changing of the guard at head coach won’t change any priorities surrounding the hockey program, and even if the Badgers get better, there’s no saying the buzz about the program like it had in the 1990s will return.For now, if you want a change of head coach, wait until 2017. But if you want any real changes, you better hope Alvarez wants to coach the Badgers for the Big Ten tournament when Eaves gets fired.last_img

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