Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
The Gophers landed another wide receiver recruit Saturday, when Rashad Still, a 6-5, 200-pound multi-sport standout from El Paso (Texas) Andress High School, gave them a verbal commitment.
Still, a top basketball player, didn’t start playing football until high school, so he is considered a raw talent. He had very few other offers, but the Gophers are adding him to a growing contingent of tall, athletic receivers. Earlier in the week, they got a commitment from Hunter Register, a 6-5 receiver from Lafayette, La.
Our baseball writers, La Velle Neal and Phil Miller, head to Fort Myers in a little more than a week. Will I miss it? Sure. The temperature difference alone is enough to make one pine for spring training.
But at the same time, I'm really digging the new beat. I feel like I'm at the Minnesota Daily again with so much to learn. I'll be the first to admit the recruiting stuff has left my head spinning at times, but I'm trying to keep Strib readers up to speed on the bigger developments.
We have a few things planned leading up to national signing day next Wednesday, and I'm anxious to see the entire Gophers class unveiled. The rankings aren't pretty, but there's more to it than that, and we'll work to give it all some context.
Meantime, I had a chance to write this feature story on the Gophers women's hockey team. Amanda Kessel, Noora Raty, Megan Bozek and Co., have won 34 consecutive games. My favorite stat: During that stretch, they've played 2,040 minutes -- and trailed for all of 27:45.
Minnesotans are used to seeing prolific hockey, but this might be the best women's team of all-time.
OK, it's back to football now. Super Bowl Sunday is almost here, and it's final decision time for some recruits. Enjoy the weekend, folks.
Two months after the search for Joel Maturi's successor began, the four-person committee conducting the manhunt for Minnesota's next athletics director is on schedule and is "confident we will meet our goal of having finalists identified by late April," a university spokesman said Friday.
"[We] are excited by a robust candidate pool," Matt Hodson, a media relations associate at the university, said via email, a group "that meets the values and attributes we require of our next AD."
After seeking input from the school's faculty, students and staff, as well as boosters and alumni, the large 21-person advisory committee has compiled and reviewed the various opinions and forwarded them to the quartet appointed by President Eric Kaler that is considering the candidates and narrowing the list. Once two finalists are identified, Kaler and both committees will interview them, with Kaler selecting the new athletics director in early May.
Maturi's contract, and his 10-year tenure as AD, ends on July 1.
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."
Forgive the non-Gopher football-related post -- with spring drills beginning next week, we'll soon have plenty of them:
Consider me completely sold on CBS and Turner Broadcasting's new format for covering the NCAA men's basketball tournament. I wrote in Sunday's paper about all the changes the networks had planned for the first year of their 14-year, $10.8 billion contract, and I'll admit, I was a little skeptical. Like a lot of viewers, I had grown used to Greg Gumbel's breathless interruptions to tell us that Bucknell was within three points in the final minute out in Boise, and we're switching you there now.
Leave it up to us to decide which game to watch? Force us to switch channels to catch the buzzer-beaters? I feared I would feel disconnected, not empowered, by the format.
Well, those fears appear completely unfounded through the busy first two days of the tournament. Instead, I found myself wondering: What took us to long to get to this point? Making every game available, start to finish, has made the tournament even more engrossing. I've loved the control, I've become a virtuoso of the remote, and I haven't missed a thrilling ending yet.
(One caveat: If you don't have cable, or don't like operating the remote control, you probably didn't enjoy the tournament nearly as much. And it's only going to get worse -- beginning in 2016, the Final Four, including the championship game, will be on cable every other year.)
It's a little odd that there are two studio shows, and after two days, I think the really bizarre part is that the studio show without Charles Barkley even bothers. He tends to be the highlight of every break.
But the control of the TV experience has been a revelation. (I'd love to hear your impressions, objections and opinions, too -- leave a comment, or write firstname.lastname@example.org.) When I've been busy working, I've been able to pick the most interesting game to have on in the background. When I'm able to focus on the tournament, I've taken advantage of the networks' commitment to keeping me posted. It's easy to keep track of the other games through those score boxes at the top of the screen, and it's not hard to keep the TV on the closest games. Staggering the start times with a half hour between games, so no two games (generally speaking) come down to the finish at once, has helped, too.
I can watch blowouts to the end, if I want. (Did that during the UConn game, trying to spot my sister in the crowd.) I can stay with a game of particular interest to me (like pulling for BYU to lose), or avoid that game if I don't like how it's going. I tend to switch to other games during commercials (though somehow it still feels like I've seen the N-N-N-Napa commercial or the strange Old Spice ads a few dozen times apiece), and even started flipping around during free throws.
And every team of announcers has been aggressive in letting viewers know about a potential buzzer-beater. In short, the first Thursday and Friday of the NCAA Tournament has gotten even better, and I wasn't certain that was possible.
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