In preparation for the 2019 Final Four, U.S. Bank Stadium is planning to host a Gophers men's basketball game next year.
Michele Kelm-Helgen, chairwoman of Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), confirmed this week that discussions are taking place with the University of Minnesota for the team to play one game against an opponent to be determined in December 2017.
The Final Four in Minneapolis is scheduled for April 6-8, 2019. There is no NCAA regional set as a warmup in 2018, contrary to early assumptions. The Gophers will be the host school for the 2017 game and the Final Four.
"Prior to hosting the Final Four, we need to have a basketball event held in the stadium," Kelm-Helgen said. "We haven't settled on a final date. The university is interested in finding a [prominent] opponent to showcase the stadium and the Gophers and see how everything lays out."
The NCAA would attend the event to study the configuration and make sure the stadium meets its basketball standards.
"We are always looking to showcase the multipurpose nature of this stadium," Kelm-Helgen said, "so I think doing basketball would be great."
U.S. Bank Stadium isn't equipped with its own basketball floor; it would have to rent a floor through negotiations with the U. It's uncertain how the seats would be arranged and whether the entire 60,000-seat stadium would be used. The Final Four will bring its own seating system in 2019.
"We haven't really decided what the configuration would be, if we would go to one end or the middle," Kelm-Helgen said. "Obviously, it would be a much bigger venue than what the Gophers are playing at Williams Arena [14,625 capacity]. So it would be pretty exciting for that reason."
The MSFA and the U would like to have a date and opponent set by early 2017 at the latest.
"There will be plenty of tickets available for Minnesotans," Kelm-Helgen said. "I think people will enjoy this."
Senior associate AD Tom McGinnis is working with coach Richard Pitino to find an opponent. "We want to bring in an opponent that's going to be a draw for people," McGinnis said. "... We'll use this as an opportunity to try and get an opponent that is a higher-strength opponent when it comes to that time of year."
Pitino addressed the possibility of playing at U.S. Bank Stadium during a radio interview at the State Fair last weekend.
"Those games are scary because you lose a home game, but it will be a great experience to play in that beautiful building," Pitino said. "We expect to bring in a really good opponent. We don't know who that will be, but hopefully we get a good opponent. It will hold about 60,000 people, so it will be a different experience."