Friday is a historic day for the University of Minnesota, as the Board of Regents will vote to approve an athletics facilities plan that would greatly improve the Gophers athletic department.
This should really boost the Gophers’ ability to recruit elite athletes, retain top-tier coaches and most of all produce winning teams, something they have not been able to do on a consistent basis.
The big question is if these facilities, budgeted for $166 million, will be able to create a winning culture for Gophers football and men’s basketball, something that has mostly eluded the university over the past 50 years.
The last time the Gophers won a Big Ten football title was in 1967 under coach Murray Warmath. Lou Holtz coached two competitive teams, Glen Mason brought the team back to respectability, and Jerry Kill’s back-to-back eight-win seasons are something to brag about.
The last Gophers Big Ten men’s basketball championship that wasn’t voided by the NCAA came during the 1981-82 season under Jim Dutcher.
There is simply no reason why this university can’t succeed and win Big Ten championships in football and men’s basketball. Minnesota is one of five states that features only one Division I athletics program. The others are Hawaii, Maine, Vermont and Wyoming. The combined population of those four states is still smaller than Minnesota’s population.
There has to be no other state in the country that is better suited to attract local talent to its top college program, but the Gophers have struggled to win despite what should be such a gigantic advantage in recruiting. Consider the number of Fortune 500 companies here — that alone should attract good athletes, because after competing in their respective sports there’s a better possibility for solid future employment.
Iowa has to compete with Iowa State for football recruits, as well as Drake and Northern Iowa in basketball. Wisconsin is the only D-I football program in the state, but the Badgers must compete with Marquette, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Wisconsin-Milwaukee in basketball.
But the Hawkeyes have won at least a share of five Big Ten football titles since 1981, and Wisconsin has won six football titles since 1993 and four basketball titles since 2002.
The Gophers were successful in women’s volleyball, hockey and basketball, and the men’s wrestling and hockey programs have also seen success over the past few decades. But when it comes to the major revenue sports in college athletics, they simply haven’t competed as well as they should.
For years, the talk was that the Metrodome was a problem when it came to recruiting, but now they have one of the best football stadiums in the country with TCF Bank Stadium. Now the common refrain has been that they need better workout facilities and practice facilities to compete in both football and in men’s and women’s basketball, where the programs often had to work out at Williams Arena and split time on the court.
But with the passing of the facilities plan, these are no longer going to be issues. The Gophers finally are going to have the kind of campus athletics environment that should allow them to succeed in all sports on a more consistent basis.
The Gophers have had four different football and men’s basketball coaches since 2000. Wisconsin has had three men’s basketball coaches in that time and four football coaches, with three of them coming in the past four years. Iowa has had one football coach and three basketball coaches.
This is a state that produces great athletes on a regular basis and has a university that brings in the fifth-highest revenue in the Big Ten, trailing only Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State.
One would have to hope that the building of these new facilities will become the turning point for sustained success at the U.
True, the Gophers football team has had a lot of injuries. In fact, Kill noted that 20 players didn’t practice Wednesday, so no doubt the Gophers will be handicapped when they face Purdue on Saturday, at a place they have had trouble winning —they are 5-20 all-time at West Lafayette, Ind., and have not won there since 2008.
Purdue, which last had a winning season in 2011, is having another tough season, but last week the Boilermakers gave Michigan State all it wanted in a 24-21 loss to the then-No. 2 Spartans at East Lansing, a game in which Purdue freshman Markel Jones ran 22 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns. The Boilermakers’ only victory is 38-14 over FCS team Indiana State; they have also lost to Virginia Tech 51-24, Bowling Green 35-28 and Marshall 41-31.
This is a crucial game for the Gophers, with the schedule looking more difficult than it did at the start of the season: Michigan is better than expected; Iowa is undefeated after winning at Wisconsin; and Illinois beat Nebraska last week. You just assume that Ohio State and Wisconsin will be tough on the Gophers, as usual.
No doubt injuries have played a big part in the Gophers’ struggles since they almost beat then-No. 2 TCU to open the season. They can’t afford to keep going downhill, but with so many players injured, it just might happen.
• It’s hard to believe that the Vikings lost to a 49ers team that has since lost on the road 43-18 to the Steelers and 47-7 to the Cardinals before losing at home to the Packers 17-3. Incidentally, linebacker Gerald Hodges, who was traded to San Francisco for undrafted center Nick Easton, had eight tackles against the 49ers in Week 1 and was one of the Vikings’ outstanding defensive players that day.
• The Gophers baseball team will open the 2016 season playing Utah, Oregon State, Utah Valley in Surprise, Ariz., in mid-February. Then they will go to Buies Creek, N.C., where they play Campbell three times. Then they will go to Atlanta to play Georgia State for three games. After that they go back across the country, playing at Seattle, at Utah Valley in Orem and at Missouri State in Springfield. Their first home game won’t be until March 30.
• In the San Jose Sharks’ season-opening 5-1 victory against the host Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night, former Gophers star defenseman Paul Martin had an assist and played 18 minutes, 30 seconds in his Sharks debut. White Bear Lake High School standout Justin Braun, in his fifth season with San Jose, played 22:44 and had four hits and five blocked shots and former Wild defenseman Brent Burns had a goal and an assist and played 25:00.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org