There recently has been great improvement in academics for the Gophers football and basketball teams.

If you check the academic record of the Gophers football squad, you will find 15 players completed their degree or were going to complete their degree by the end of the fall semester, including six who were in graduate school. They are Tony Brinkhaus, Steve Shidell, Amix Pinnix, Justin Valentine, John Jakel, Collin McGarry, Jack Simmons and Mike Macie- jowski. Brinkhaus, Shidell, Pinnix, Jakel and McGarry were in graduate school in fall 2007.

There are only 12 seniors on the 2008 team. By the end of spring/summer 2008, seven of the current football players who will play this fall will complete their degrees and five will be in graduate school this fall.

Matt DeGeest, Jason Gian-nini, Mike Frankberg, William Brody, Deon Hightower, Steve Moore and Justin Kucek will graduate.

Of that group, Brody, High-tower, Moore, Maciejowski and Kucek, plus Simmons and Tony Mortenson, will be in graduate school this fall while playing football. In addition, four other football players -- Ned Tavale, Nick Tow-Arnett, Kevin Mannion and Matt Stommes will complete their degrees by the end of the fall semester.

This graduation improvement didn't start with coach Tim Brewster, who is only going into his second year. Former coach Glen Mason did a great job, too, as indicated by the grade-point averages of the team during the following periods: 2.73 in the fall of 2005, 2.82 in the spring of '06, 2.91 in the fall of '06, 2.85 in the spring of '07 and 2.78 in the fall of '07.

Two of the five male student-athletes awarded the Top 5 Academic Awards from all Gophers teams in the past year -- Jeff Tow-Arnett and Frankberg -- were football players. The other three were Matt Nohelty, baseball; Seijin Takamura, track and cross-county; and Cole Young, swimming.

Basketball better, too

Spencer Tollackson, Lawrence McKenzie and Dan Coleman of last year's men's basketball team will graduate in May. Ryan Saunders will graduate in August. Damian Johnson, Kevin Payton, Travis Busch, Jamal Abu-Shamala and Jonathan Williams are on track to graduate in May 2009.

In addition, former Gopher J'son Stamper graduated in May of 2007.

Former basketball player Sam Jacobson is on track to graduate in December 2009. His former teammate, Quincy Lewis, will return this summer to work on his degree.

According to the university's 10-year Exhaust Eligibility Graduation Rate, nearly nine out of 10 Gophers athletes (89 percent) who exhaust their athletic eligibility at Minnesota will graduate. And student-athletes continue to graduate at a higher rate than the general student body, according to the NCAA Six-Year Graduation Rate.

Yes, the current student-athletes are doing very well in football and basketball, and that wasn't always the case in the past.

Jottings

The word around the Gophers football program is that former Cretin-Derham Hall and Wisconsin safety Kim Royston has applied to enroll at Minnesota. He will have to pay his own way because Big Ten rules prohibit getting a scholarship when transferring to another school in the conference.

Georgia State and Western Michigan are two of the three teams that will compete with the Gophers in a basketball tournament scheduled for Williams Arena on Nov. 13-15.

Paul Giel III, the grandson of former Gophers athletic director Paul Giel and an outstanding baseball player for Minnetonka, has decided to attend Wabash Valley (Ill.) Community College.

More on Mike Guentzel, the former Gophers assistant hockey coach who is expected to be offered the head hockey coaching job at St. John's: "I don't know what I'm going to do yet. I really liked what I was doing, I love the Twin Cities, I don't know if I want to move. Yeah, that's an option. I've got a 13-year-old that wants to play in the area and grow up with his friends and stuff. There's just factors involved. I was making a lot of money at the U, too, and financially it's a big cut, I think, at this point. But I don't want to say I'm 50/50. I think they're going to offer me the job and then I'm going to have to sit down and figure out if I want to take it or not."

It will surprise a lot of people close to the Gophers hockey program if current Hamline coach and former Gopher Scott Bell doesn't replace Guentzel at Minnesota. Bell certainly wants the job.

Ra'Shede Hageman, the outstanding Minneapolis Washburn tight end, was recruited here this week by a Florida assistant coach. The Gophers will have a maximum of 16 football scholarships for next year. They already have five commitments. They recently withdrew an offer to Fritz Rock, the highly recruited Wayzata wide receiver. Brewster is in a position now where he is telling recruits that because of limited scholarships, they have to commit now if they want to be sure of financial aid. Wide receiver Bryce McNeal of Breck, who is being recruited hard by Michigan and other schools, might have to give the Gophers an answer soon because the team might fill its quota for 2009 in short order.

Brewster and his staff continue to do coaching clinics all over and on Thursday night, the head coach and coordinators Ted Roof and Mike Dunbar were at Minneapolis Southwest High School. The clinic's host was Sean McMenomy, a former Gopher who is the head coach at Southwest.

A year ago at this time, the Vikings had a lot of season ticket holders who hadn't renewed. But according to Steve LaCroix, Vikings vice president of sales and marketing, season ticket sales are up more than 10 percent, and the team hopes to reach the number of season tickets it had in 2005 and 2006.

Former Gophers heavyweight Cole Konrad, who won two NCAA individual titles, says he will have to beat Dremiel Byers of Army to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team at the trials in Las Vegas on June 13-15.

The Gophers baseball team is having its worst season in 46 years. One of the reasons is it has lost 13 games in which it was leading in the final two innings.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast twice a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com.