Brian Hamilton, who covered Gophers sports for several years at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and now works for Sports Illustrated, has an interesting piece Wednesday that attempts to get to the heart of the question that gets asked quite often from locals:
Why does the University of Minnesota athletic program seem to be a magnet for scandals and negative stories?
Hamilton goes through a significant list of examples from the past two decades, starting with the academic fraud scandal in the Gophers men’s basketball program that broke in 1999, shortly before he moved here to cover the Gophers.
Writes Hamilton: Bad things happen at nearly every college. Academic missteps, inappropriate behavior thrust before anyone with an internet connection, bad administrators, mishandling extremely delicate sexual assault cases … sadly, none of this is unique to Minnesota. But all of it has happened at Minnesota, and having been there for a while, it does not seem to be the kind of place where oppressive pressure to succeed explains it all away.
He describes Gophers athletics as “realistically a mid-level business with fair-but-not-outsized expectations, and yet it all too consistently faces extraordinarily high-end humiliations.”
It’s hard to argue with that. In the big-money sports of football and men’s basketball, being better than the majority of teams — not necessarily elite — is the marker of success in most people’s eyes.
What’s interesting, though, is Hamilton’s diagnosis of why these things seem to keep happening here. Basically, it’s the opposite of what I’ve been thinking about.
Writes Hamilton: “No one there is cynical enough. Or at least no one in charge seems to be cynical enough.” His point is that he doesn’t think Minnesotans (or at least U of M administrators) are good at diagnosing potential problems before they happen because they place too much faith in others to do the right thing.
While there might be an element of truth to that, I’ll take the contrarian point of view. (And it should be noted: Hamilton is a New Jersey native and I’m a Midwest native. It’s hard to say whether an outside or inside perspective is better here, but it’s good to mention the difference).
My contention is that things keep happening (or at least seem to keep happening) with more frequency at Minnesota than other schools because Minnesotans are very cynical — and likely to expose bad behavior (even passive-aggressively) when it is discovered.
It’s easier to find a whistleblower and stop the chain of cover-ups here than at a school where relationships are a little more cozy.
There of course exists a third reality: that things really don’t happen more here, they just appear to because we keep asking the question “why do these things keep happening?”
Your thoughts, please, in the comments.