The Big Ten Network launched on Aug. 30, 2007. Beyond the bonanza of stadium building, the biggest change in the Twin Cities sports scene in the eight-plus years since then has been the decline of interest in Gophers men’s basketball and Gophers men’s hockey.
Admittedly, the basketball downfall started in March 1999, when the St. Paul Pioneer Press broke the story of academic fraud that had taken place in Clem Haskins’ program.
The university has never replaced Haskins as a dynamic coach or as the popular face of Gophers basketball, in the view of the Williams Arena regulars of my acquaintance.
In hockey, the three straight seasons — from fall 2008 to spring 2011 — without a berth in the NCAA tournament changed the perception of the Gophers as a constant mighty force.
Even the ride to the NCAA title game in 2014 did not enliven the sporting public as did such postseason pushes early in the Don Lucia era (1999 to present). That is less the fault of The Don than of the Big Ten decisionmakers.
Men’s ice hockey is slightly more important to the Big Ten Network’s revenue stream than women’s field hockey, yet the conference was willing to blow up college hockey for a few hours of auxiliary programming.
“Why doesn’t The Don play games on half the weekends in November?’’ a North Dakota media member asked me on Friday night in St. Cloud State’s arena.
My answer: “Because he no longer has the schedule of a real hockey conference.’’
I was at Mariucci Arena once last winter … for two periods. I do listen to former hard-core followers. The scouting report is a building 70 percent full and lifeless.
The view from Williams Arena, in the miserable weeks before the start of the conference schedule, is even worse: A Barn with a few thousand stupefied spectators arriving late and leaving early.
Meantime, season-ticket holders are gouged for big prices and mandatory donations for basketball and hockey tickets that are worth eight bucks on the street.
“Something has to give’’ with all the sports options in the Twin Cities, we’re frequently told. My opinion is something has: Gophers basketball and hockey.
PLUS THREE FROM PATRICK
Three ways the Big Ten and its network have damaged Gophers men’s basketball:
• No division alignment means there’s the same chance for home-and-homes each season with Rutgers and Penn State as with Wisconsin and Iowa.
• Occasional late Sunday tipoffs so the Big Ten Network can get a rating below the legal limit for a DWI.
• Commissioner Jim Delany’s failure to expand conference games and set non-conference scheduling standards, as he has in football.