This was no sprint to the finish line. After nearly two years of conflict, investigation and debate, the University of Minnesota finally had its proposed track and field complex approved by the Board of Regents on Friday.
When the track and field programs were left without a permanent home in the university's 2014 plans for the now-under-construction Athletes Village, a gender-equity compliant was filed by supporters of Gophers track. A U.S. Department of Education investigation began in January 2015 after the anonymous complaint focused on the women's team, which accounts for 45 percent of female athletic participants at the U. Track and field is the school's largest nonrevenue sport.
Regent Chairman Dean Johnson said in 2015, as the investigation rolled on and the Athletes Village plans were stuck in the struggle, that track and field "is a very visible program, and we have to do it right."
Friday's approval brings finality to that long run, with the regents approval of a plan to build a privately funded $13 million outdoor track and field stadium on the East Bank campus, expected to open for the 2018-19 school year.
"To maintain a successful, broad-based athletics department, our students need first-class facilities to train, practice and compete," athletic director Mark Coyle wrote in a statement. "This new outdoor track and field stadium will provide that type of facility for our men's and women's track and field programs while giving them a long-term, on-campus home."
A year ago, the U announced the track would be built on the East Bank, as opposed to a location farther away from where most of Gophers athletics are located, such as the U's golf course on the St. Paul campus.
"We wanted our athletes to have access to the [Athletes] Village," Matt Bingle, director of women's track and cross-country, said in September, "and have a good routine every day using all the facilities that all the athletes are going to have access to. … It shows support for our women, which they need. With all the things that are going on, I think they appreciate that."
The old track was demolished to make room for a football facility in the Athletes Village plans, and the 150-plus track athletes began traveling 5 miles to Division III Hamline University in St. Paul to practice.
Their new facility is expected to include a nine-lane track with locations for javelin, shot put, discuss/hammer throw, long/triple jump and steeplechase. The project will include a press box, concessions and a seating area that could exceed 4,000 in capacity.
The stadium will give the U an opportunity to host outdoor track competitions for the first time in nearly 15 years. The previous facility, with a shifting and uneven track surface, had been deemed unfit to host events.
The stadium, which will be just east of Siebert Field (baseball), will also be used for high school and USA Track and Field events. But primarily more than 150 Gophers got the news they were hoping for Friday.
"It's going to have a tremendous impact and make their lives simpler by having the dining hall, academic center, locker room, weight room, training room, coaches offices, and track all in one area," Bingle said in Friday's statement. "We're very excited about it and grateful for the efforts to make the facility possible."