The University of Minnesota’s marathon process of finding a new athletic director apparently is close to entering the next phase.

Don’t worry, folks. They’re almost halfway done.

The outside search firm Turnkey has conducted a series of phone and in-person interviews the past few weeks and will submit a list of candidates for formal interviews with university President Eric Kaler and his 900-member internal search committee.

The actual number on Kaler’s hand-picked committee is 16, but it might as well be 900 because the size of that group served as a stop sign for some potential candidates.

How many? I don’t know, but people privately have shared their concerns.

I had a conversation last week with a current AD at a Division I school who had mild interest in the job. His credentials would have made him an attractive candidate.

Multiple reasons caused him not to apply, not just one thing. But he admitted the potential of interviewing with 16 people under the premise of confidentiality was a deterrent.

Too risky, he said, because his bosses, coaches and — perhaps as important — his school’s donors wouldn’t have known that he applied for the job.

What if word leaked that he interviewed as a finalist and he didn’t get the job? Good luck digging out of that hole.

A person with connections to the U also told me that several candidates called him seeking information about the job. All expressed reservations about the 16-member committee. The source declined to say whether those people applied anyway.

In revealing his internal committee in late March, Kaler said: “Absolutely, yes, the full committee will winnow this list down. So unlike last time, where we had the smaller group that did the interviews, all 16 of these people will be involved in the interview process.”

There is speculation growing that not all 16 members will take part in every interview. If that’s true, that begs the question: Why create that perception at the beginning of this process?

If, say, six members interview one group of candidates and then a different mix of committee members interview more candidates, how will they reach a consensus on which finalists to send to Kaler?

What a strange process.

Members of the search committee signed confidentiality agreements, promising not to reveal any information regarding their duties. I don’t doubt that most, if not all, intend to honor that request. There are sincere people on the committee.

This is about perception, though. Candidates — and not just current athletic directors at other schools — see 16 potential leaks and biases, which might be deal-breakers for those who can’t risk having employers know they’re looking around at other jobs.

That doesn’t mean the Gophers can’t or won’t make a strong hire. The list of candidates reported to be under consideration includes some smart, qualified people.

The search process hasn’t been ruined, but Kaler made things overly complicated and affected his candidate pool with an overcorrection to past mistakes.

Kaler relied on a four-member committee in the search process that ended with Norwood Teague’s regrettable hiring. Backlash from Teague’s sexual harassment scandal focused on Kaler and his committee’s due diligence. A university review of that search recommended using a larger committee this time.

Kaler went overboard.

His intentions in utilizing a committee have some merit. Seek opinions from people invested in the university with the hope of avoiding another mistake.

Fine, but a 16-member committee feels like a tortuous attempt to appease too many constituents. Or maybe he’s trying to provide himself cover if the next AD doesn’t pan out, either.

A committee of 5,000 couldn’t guarantee that they won’t hire the wrong person.

Whatever his reasons, Kaler could have formed a committee of five to eight people and still accomplished the same thing.

Granted, confidentiality could be compromised with a committee of that size, too. But this particular group has so many members of varying backgrounds, interests and viewpoints that one wonders how they will whittle the list of semifinalists to a manageable number.

Does it really need to be this complicated?