Former Vikings quarterback and 2002 NFL MVP Rich Gannon says any controversy over whether or not the Patriots deflated footballs to below league standards really isn't much of an issue.

Quarterbacks have been allowed to specify how they want the football prepared before the game for years. Gannon said that, while tampering with footballs after they were inspected by game officials would be disingenuous, he doesn't think it's a big deal.

"During the season now, both teams are allowed to prepare balls and present them to the league or the officials, and the officials just check to make sure they meet the standards in terms of the pressure or amount of air in the ball," he said. "But you can rub them down, work on them and massage them, and the league doesn't have a problem with that. I don't think it's a huge story myself."

When Gannon and the Oakland Raiders faced off against another former Vikings quarterback, Brad Johnson, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003, the two QBs met beforehand to talk about how they would like to get the balls a little scuffed up and more game-ready than brand-new balls.

Johnson made some headlines this week when he said he paid two ball boys to scuff up the balls before the game, something Gannon didn't know at the time.

"Back then you weren't allowed [to prepare the balls],'' Gannon said. ''Either team could get the balls, and neither quarterback wanted to have a slick ball in the game. This has been going on for years, this is long before the late change in policy. Now both teams can use their own balls.

"I didn't want to play with a slick ball, he didn't want to play with a slick ball. I don't know anything about him paying somebody to do it. I wasn't aware of that, but I don't have a problem with that."

The rules have changed since that 2002 season, when the NFL presented new balls for the Super Bowl and neither team was allowed to use their own balls.

"I didn't know about [him paying the ball boys] until this morning, and that was the first I heard about it," Gannon said. "But I talked to him on the Monday before the game. He didn't indicate to me that he was going to pay somebody to do it. Back then both quarterbacks would get together during the week. You'd run into somebody and say, 'Hey let's make sure the balls aren't …" because during the season, [the home team would] provide the balls so they are just the way you want them.

"Your equipment guy would get them scuffed up or rubbed down so they weren't slick right out of the box. But for the Super Bowl, neither team was allowed to touch the ball. That since has changed. They changed that policy I think back in 2005 or 2006, when I think Peyton Manning went to the league and said, 'This is crazy.'

''And he was right. I think what happened in [Sunday's AFC] Championship Game between the Colts and the Patriots, both teams provide their own balls. Now whether the Patriots tampered with them after the fact is a different story. But I don't think anybody really cares how the balls are prepared, just so they meet the NFL standards."

U rises in academics

When Jerry Kill took over as Gophers football coach in 2010, the roster had 20 players on academic probation and another large group barely eligible.

But every year under the combination of Kill, the football coaching staff and Lynn Holleran, the director of the McNamara Academic Center for student-athletes, the team's classroom performance has improved. Holleran has done a sensational job.

Now for the second year in a row, the Gophers will have 30 Academic All-Big Ten football players (those with 3.0 grade-point averages or better). That's the second-best mark in the Big Ten, trailing only Northwestern with 37. Wisconsin is tied for third with 27.

The Gophers also have one Academic All-America (3.2 GPA or better) in redshirt sophomore tight end Maxx Williams, who earlier this month announced he would enter the NFL draft.

Twenty-four of the other 25 sports have GPAs of 3.0 or better, according to Holleran.

Jottings

•The University of Minnesota made it official Thursday, as announced in this column some time ago, that David and Janis Larson have given $15 million to the Gophers athletic department for the new footb all performance center, which will house football offices, locker rooms, training areas and workout facilities. David Larson, who died last Oct. 25, was a retired Cargill executive and University of Minnesota regent. The $15 million is part of the $65 million the university has raised.

•Asked about his 2015 football recruiting class, Kill believes it will be good but adds, "the next nine days are crucial as we try to hold on to the players we have until the signing date [Feb. 3]."

The Gophers are beating out some good schools for players, including the latest to commit, wide receiver Hunter Register from Comeaux High School in Lafayette, La., who several Division I schools will be after until signing day. Kill returned Thursday from recruiting all over the country.

•The Gophers have had only two coaching changes since Kill took over in 2010. Linebackers coach Bill Miller left for Florida State and was replaced by Mike Sherels, and the recent departure of defensive quality control coach Melvin Rice, who is moving to Southeast Missouri State as a cornerbacks coach. He will be replaced after the Feb. 3 signing date.

•It appears the Vikings' coaching staff will remain mostly intact for the upcoming season. The Jaguars, who interviewed running backs coach Kirby Wilson for their offensive coordinator position, hired Greg Olson instead, so Wilson will be back. Mike Zimmer said at the Senior Bowl that Drew Petzing would be promoted to assistant wide receivers coach after Klint Kubiak went to Kansas.

•The Gophers are set to retire Randy Breuer's jersey on Saturday during the Illinois game. The 7-3 center was a key member of the Gophers' 1982 Big Ten championship team and led the team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots in 1982. He was a two-time All-Big Ten first-team selection. … Gophers basketball coach Richard Pitino believes the team, which is 1-6 in the Big Ten, has missed sophomore guard Daquein McNeil, who was averaging 18.8 minutes per game before being kicked off the team following an arrest and charged with two felony counts of assault. McNeil was averaging only 3.2 points and 3.2 rebounds, but he did contribute in other ways.

•After scoring a career-high 31 points against Denver last week, Andrew Wiggins has continued to put up efficient offensive numbers for the Timberwolves. Over his past 15 games, Wiggins is averaging 20.5 points on 48.1 percent shooting from the field.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40, 8:40 and 9:20 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com