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Debate looms over Gophers' 25-sport program

  • Blog Post by: Phil Miller
  • February 8, 2012 - 6:19 PM

     I wrote a story Tuesday about the changing job description of a Division I athletic director, and included several comments from the longest-serving Big Ten athletic director, Purdue's Morgan Burke.
     He told me something else about the job that didn't make it into the story, but that will resonate with Minnesota fans. Judging by my email, and the comments on the story, it's an issue that plenty of fans feel strongly about.
     "We are one of 22 Division I universities, according to the Big Ten, that are truly self-supporting -- no taxpayer funds, no student fees, no university support of any kind," Burke said proudly.
     That's fairly impressive, I told him, considering Purdue's size, relative to the rest of the conference. Purdue last season drew an average of 42,225 fans to Ross-Ade Stadium, lower even than the Gophers' 47,714 average. The Gophers ranked ninth in the conference, and 49th nationally, while the Boilermakers were 10th and 51st.
     So what's his secret?
     Among other things, Burke said, "we only sponsor 18 sports. These days, you have to minimize the number of sports in order to control ... your budget. I'd like to add sports, but we have a responsibility to live within our means."
     It looks like a similar debate is shaping up at Minnesota, where Joel Maturi considers it one of his signature achievements that he has not had to pare back the Gophers' 25-sport department. Some of Maturi's most vocal critics, however, insist that the money and the department's focus are better spent emphasizing the revenue sports of hockey, basketball and especially football.
     University president Eric Kaler said at Maturi's retirement announcement last week that he generally favors offering as many sports as possible -- but he sounded noncommittal about whether the Gophers will be able to afford it.
     "The next AD will have an opinion about that," Kaler said. "I do share a commitment to a broad range of sports. We just need to look at the financial viability of doing that. I'm sure that will be an important element that the new athletic director will balance."
 

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