Dutch Cragun is passionate about his wife Irma, about the employees and the resort and golf courses that the Craguns own on Gull Lake, and about the University of Minnesota.

He became a close friend of Tubby Smith, yet his loyalty to the Gophers is such that Dutch was encountered walking into Williams Arena on Tuesday night a half-hour before Richard Pitino’s third team would tip off against South Dakota State.

Dutch and I have become friends through several visits to his resort. When I see him, he generally has a comment on a recent sports column contribution that I’ve made to the Star Tribune’s print edition.

This meeting was no exception. Dutch assured me that we remain pals, then came with the disclaimer:

“ … BUT, you’re wrong about it being an embarrassment that this Gophers football team is going to a bowl game. They weren’t given this without a reason. They earned it with grades. Jerry Kill came in here and in five years, raised the grades by a whole point. They went from below a C average to a high C average in football.’’

Those are old-school grades that Dutch and I can understand: A, B, C, D and F. Academic Progress Reports, be damned, there’s still something poetic about a grading system that includes the humiliation of the F.

You can say that an athlete is “academically ineligible,’’ but for me, such an athlete always will have “flunked out.’’

Dutch and the other Gophers’ zealots are so determined to find some justification for this failed football team advancing to a bowl game that they have adopted the angle seized by the university:

Let’s be proud of the improved grades for the football team, and stop fretting about a season that came up short of the 6-6 record that was the previous minimum to play in a fourth-rate bowl game.

Sorry, Dutch, I still love you, but being 5-7 and going to Detroit to play Central Michigan is a not a triumph for progress in the classroom, but a level of acceptance of sub-mediocrity in Gophers football never previously experienced.

Yes, we have seen sub-mediocrity and much worse in Gophers football over the past 4 ½ decades, but the difference is, the sporting public has never been asked previously to be proud of it.

And now the university athletic department, one day after being chided for excesses in spending in a report on an investigation that cost $690,000, confirmed on Wednesday that bowl bonuses will be paid to the coaches (including Jerry Kill) -- even though those bonuses were written into their contracts in the belief that .500 seasons were a requirement for bowl eligibility.

Nebraska had a higher academic rating than Minnesota, yet the athletic director, Shawn Eichorst, had the good taste to tell coach Mike Riley and his staff there would be no bowl bonuses … not for something as paltry as a 5-7 season.

This entire thing – going to a bowl game, paying a bonus to the staff for coaching up its squad from 5-3 in the Big Ten in 2014 to 2-6 in 2015 – is a fiasco, and even the maroon-colored glasses of my guy Dutch can’t change that.

P.S.: I didn’t get a chance to see Dutch later Tuesday night, after the 14-point loss to South Dakota State, to find out if he saw a positive from the basketball team hereafter known as the ‘’Little Richards.’’

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