University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler recently got some good news when the Big Ten announced its new television agreement with Fox, ESPN and CBS, one worth an estimated $2.64 billion over six years, or about $440 million per season.
With that revenue being split among the 14 conference schools, Kaler said it’s a big help. “It will put us on a per-school basis at the highest amount of any conference in the country,” he said. “We’re going to invest that in the welfare of our student-athletes, our athletics village, and we’ll also be able to benefit the larger university. It’s a big win in the media space for us right now.”
The rough estimates are each school will get $31.7 million per season.
“We are excited about that,” Kaler said, without divulging specific numbers. “It’s a very good deal. It will put us ahead of all the other conferences and with a six-year window we are out in the marketplace before the other conference contracts are up and that’s again a strategic advantage for us. All credit to our commissioner, Jim Delany. He is excellent, certainly the best commissioner of any of the Power Five conferences in terms of his business acumen and his ability to get these kinds of deals done. Very impressive and good for all of us.”
Kaler was asked if there has been any discussion about the conference expanding, and he said that while Delany keeps those options open, there is no current conversation happening.
Looking for positives
With a lot of bad news swirling around the Gophers athletic department in the past year, Kaler said there has been some positive developments happening lately on campus.
“We won six conference titles this year, which is third in the Big Ten behind only Ohio State and Michigan, and I would note three times as many as Iowa and Wisconsin combined, I have to work that in there,” Kaler said. “There’s so much positive energy over there. We have 725 student-athletes, the great, great majority of them are doing wonderful things and having great success on the court or field and in the classroom. We have the Big Ten Female Athlete of the Year in Rachel Banham, it just goes on and on.”
The Gophers finished 20th in the final Learfield Directors’ Cup standings, which track all sports in NCAA Division I. They were the fourth-highest team in the Big Ten, trailing Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.
Still maybe the best piece of news for Kaler was the hiring of Mark Coyle to be athletic director. It was an impressive find.
“We used a great search consulting firm, Turnkey Search,” Kaler said. “They looked carefully at what we needed and who might be available around the country. Mark had been at Syracuse for a short period of time. It was a very difficult decision for him to make to become a candidate.
“We were able to convince him to do that and ultimately to come. I think part of that plays to the fact that he had been here before. He understands what potential we have, and what leverage we have as part of the best conference in college athletics and on a really positive trajectory. We’re fortunate to get him, but it was due in large part to the persuasive powers with our search consultant and with some of us at the U.”
The early signs out of Coyle are good, as fundraising has jumped to a reported $94 million as the school still raises money for its athletics village.
“The push is on,” Kaler said. “We are going to meet our goal. The fundraising slowed a little bit in the interim period, as you might expect. I myself would wait and see if I was going to make an investment there. But Mark is on the road and we are going to get there. I don’t know the exact number now, but it certainly should be north of $80 million. We’re in good shape there.”
Improving at key sports
There’s no question that the struggles of the men’s basketball and hockey teams, along with off-the-field issues such as the wrestling program drug scandal, and even football coach Jerry Kill’s sudden retirement have cast a lot of doubt around the university.
Specifically regarding the men’s basketball and football teams, Kaler said: “I always like to look to the future than remember the past in this space. And it is true that those two sports [football and basketball] have not had the success we would like them to have recently. But a lot of the department is doing well, as I mentioned earlier. When you look at what you need to do to move those forward, you need three obvious things: You need facilities for training and practice, you need great athletes and you need great coaches. I believe Tracy Claeys is the right guy for Gopher football right now, I believe they’ve made a lot of progress under Jerry Kill’s leadership and that will continue under Tracy. We look forward to a good season. I think the facilities will help us recruit our athletes and help them compete more effectively.
“On the basketball side I do continue to believe that Richard Pitino will move our program forward. Mark Coyle and his staff are going to pay a lot of attention to that in terms of recruiting and competitiveness. But the thing that I know for sure is that if you don’t want to make progress in a sport, you change your coaches frequently, that’s a recipe for not having success. So we’ve got two people now that I believe deserve a chance to see how they move us forward.”
• Gophers junior Brandon Lingen, who this past week was named to the John Mackey Award watch list as the nation’s top tight end, is spending a lot of time this summer catching passes thrown by Mitch Leidner, who is healthy for the first time in his career. I predict they will give the Maroon and Gold one of the best passing combinations in the Big Ten. Lingen caught 33 passes for 428 yards and three touchdowns in 12 games last year and is expected to do much better in 2016 because he is also 100 percent healthy.
• New Timberwolves guard Brandon Rush is familiar with playing in the Twin Cities from his time playing for the Howard Pulley summer program. He also played in Howard Pulley’s Sabes Foundation Invitational tournament in high school when Rush was playing for K.C. Rocktown out of Kansas City, Mo.
• The two incoming Gophers selected in last month’s NHL draft, defenseman Ryan Lindgren and forward Rem Pitlick, are not given any thought to signing and will be in a Maroon and Gold uniform this coming season. Lindgren was drafted in the second round (49th overall) by Boston. Pitlick went in the third round (76th) to Nashville.
• DeLaSalle boys’ basketball coach Dave Thorson continues to develop college players, and he has another one in 6-4 junior guard Gabe Kalscheur, who has already been offered by the Gophers. Kalscheur led the Islanders in scoring last season at 20.1 points per game as they won the Class 3A state championship.
• Here’s a unique combination: Matt Lane, a 31-year-old assistant pastor at Peace Lutheran Church in Faribault is also a righthanded pitcher for the Faribault Lakers, an amateur baseball team. His first victory of the season was a complete game where he struck out five and gave up only one earned run.
• Gophers athletes were awarded 72 Big Ten Distinguished Scholar Awards for the 2015-16 season.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org