If you’ve been following the Gophers men’s basketball Twitter and Instagram accounts, you probably know by now the team is currently touring Italy. Rome is the first stop on the nine-day foreign tour.
Minnesota’s one of more than 60 men’s college basketball teams taking foreign tours this month, which the NCAA allows programs to do every four years.
Five Big Ten men’s basketball programs are traveling abroad this month. Illinois and Nebraska are in Italy with Minnesota this week. Rutgers begins a trip to Spain today. Northwestern goes to France and Italy at the end of August.
The No. 1 question asked by fans is will the Gophers’ exhibition games be streamed live to watch?
Initially, the Gophers had no plans for live video, but that changed at the last minute. The link will be available shortly before game time at the Gophers men's basketball Twitter account.
Updates and an video interview with Richard Pitino will also come from the team after the U’s first game scheduled 11:30 a.m. CT Tuesday against Stella Azurra Academy in Rome (Nebraska beat Stella Azzurra Academy 87-56 on Monday live streamed). The other two games will be Thursday vs. Tuscan Select in Florence and Saturday vs. Como Select in Bologna.
Other than if U games are available to watch online, Gophers fans have wondered about how the team pays for the pricey foreign tour and why go overseas in the first place.
Well, the Gophers’ trip this year was privately funded with money from an unnamed donor and some help from the Golden Dunkers booster club. The U’s last foreign tour in 2015 to Barcelona and Madrid cost over $200,000, paid by the athletic department’s enhancement donations fund. Basically, these trips aren’t coming out of the Gophers athletic budget.
The Gophers have been going on foreign tours going back to 1989 when Clem Haskins took his team to New Zealand and Australia prior to the Elite Eight run in 1990.
Jason Sarkies, the tour director of Basketball Travelers, is working with the Gophers men's basketball team this season. Sarkies also worked with the Gophers under Tubby Smith going to British Columbia in 2010 and the U women's basketball team in Italy last year.
The educational opportunity for traveling to a foreign country is huge for college students and athletes, Sarkies said. Basketball Travelers is one of many companies that have been providing tours for hoops programs since the early 1980s.
“The vast majority of the student-athletes might never get a chance to go overseas,” Sarkies said. “That experience itself is why a lot of teams choose to do it. The obvious piece is you get 10 practices pre-tour. They can only go every four years, so ideally for a program everybody would get to experience it. Incoming freshmen can go, so when they’re graduating seniors they would’ve already been gone when another freshmen class goes. That’s kind of the way it’s conceived. There’s a basketball and educational piece to it.”
Sarkies said he’s doing 38 total tours for basketball teams this summer, including 17 in Italy. The coaches and players for these teams cross paths during their trip. Sarkies said the most challenging aspect of the tour, though, is scheduling exhibition games for them to play.
“We have close to 60 games booked in Italy this summer and well over 100 internationally,” he said. “Trying to craft a schedule that makes sense competitively and timing wise and wrapping in the sight seeing pieces, it’s all kind of one big project that start just prior to the Final Four.”
Anybody remember seeing Zion Williamson's dunk-crazy foreign tour with Duke vs. Canadian teams last summer?
Streaming all foreign tour college hoops exhibition games might become the norm soon. ESPN aired Kansas, Kentucky and Duke foreign tour games in recent years. Teams like Minnesota were approached by other companies to livestream games this summer (the Gophers have squad with seven newcomers).
“I think it’s likely going down the road that it will be a more built-in feature,” Sarkies said. “That’s the next step. There’s for sure a want for it.”
College Basketball Insider Jeff Goodman has a full list of Division I basketball foreign tours this summer.