For nearly 19 years, the symbol of the Gophers men’s basketball team’s greatest on-court accomplishment and biggest off-court shame has been absent from the public eye.
At 5 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2000, the banner from the men’s program’s lone Final Four appearance was taken down from the Williams Arena rafters as part of the extensive punishment for the school’s academic fraud scandal.
Why so early in the day? Per a Star Tribune story from the time: to avoid prying eyes, according to school officials. And according to a story a month later, the 1997 banner was “stashed in some closet,” where it presumably has been gathering dust for the better part of two decades.
But in light of a recent NCAA decision, Star Tribune Gophers men’s basketball beat writer Marcus Fuller asked his followers on Twitter a question: Should the banners from those vacated seasons go back up again?
As you might expect, fans are all for it.
But let’s examine the issue a little more closely.
First, the NCAA decision in question, as noted by Inside Higher Education: After the University of North Carolina somehow evaded NCAA sanctions after creating “fake classes that largely benefited athletes for nearly two decades,” a committee created by the NCAA recommended the governing body “pass a bylaw that gave it broader authority to punish institutions that engage in academic fraud.”
But in August, the NCAA’s Board of Directors declined to support the proposal, which means per IHE that the bylaw “will not be voted on by the larger NCAA membership.”
It’s not hard to see why this would make many people — including Gophers fans — upset. Why does North Carolina get to keep its championships and banners? And why does the NCAA, which came down so hard on Minnesota in its academic fraud case, not want to adopt a bylaw to help punish future offenders?
Per IHE: “Governance bodies and much of the membership as a whole were uncomfortable with the concept at this time,” NCAA spokeswoman Michelle Hosick wrote in an email, declining to specify the reasons for their discomfort.
That sounds like a bunch of garbled nonsense (at best), and it remains ridiculous that North Carolina wasn’t punished.
Adding to any movement to re-hang the 1997 banner: new Michigan coach Juwan Howard sounds interested in starting a discussion about whether to re-hang the Wolverines Final Four banners from 1992 and 1993 that were vacated.
On the other hand, though, are two points. One, Minnesota officials accepted their punishment from the NCAA two decades ago and almost seemed relieved to have done so.
“The additional penalties imposed on us were tough but fair,” said Mark Yudof in 2000, the school’s president at the time. “We have no quarrel with any of them and will comply with each of them.”
And the second point: Any argument that the Gophers should re-hang their 1997 banner essentially hinges on two wrongs — the school’s initial wrongdoing and the NCAA’s later inexplicable inaction in different cases — making a right.
Is it fair that North Carolina preserved its history while the Gophers had to stuff theirs in a closet? Not at all. But “they got away with it, so why can’t we?” is not a particularly flattering or compelling reason to ask for a change.
All that said: It is somewhat silly to deny history. The banner isn’t some Confederate monument. It’s a piece of fabric saying a basketball team did something great on the court.
Maybe it doesn’t belong in the rafters … but speaking particularly as someone who was a student at the U during that Final Four season, I’d sure like to see it again someday.