The Gophers had an extremely entertaining baseball team in 2018, winning the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles. They hosted a regional that packed the cozy confines of Siebert Field and went 3-0, with two victories over UCLA.

The reward for this was a trip to Corvallis, Ore., where they were beaten in a super regional by Oregon State. That was the team of Adley Rutschman, Trevor Larnach, etc., that would win six consecutive elimination games to take the College World Series.

Those Gophers had outstanding pitching led by Max Meyer and Patrick Fredrickson, and the fielding was also amazing. If a ball could be caught anywhere, almost always it would be.

John Anderson, the head coach since 1982, had a solid team again in 2019, and then the hard times came calling as never before.

Most of the 2020 season was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic. The same calamity limited the schedule to only Big Ten games in 2021, and the Gophers went an overmatched 6-31.

They remained deep in the 13-team Big Ten standings in the past two years. Anderson was given the option to return for the 2024 season and has done so.

Immediately, the Gophers are facing an obstacle. The plan to play as many as 15 home games inside U.S. Bank Stadium in February and March has been wiped out by the decision of building operator ASM Global to replace the dome's artificial turf during that period.

"We always relied on the bill that squeezed through the Legislature and said this stadium would be available for amateur athletics in the same manner and similar cost as was the Metrodome," Anderson said.

"That was our mistake. We didn't have an actual signed contract. We relied on the statute. We understood when the Final Four was here in 2019 that we had to move aside. In this case, it's just ASM deciding that baseball came at a low-revenue time of year for it, so they threw us out."

ASM Global is a merged company that took over operation of the stadium — known here affectionately as the Zygidome — late in 2019.

"We know the Vikings never wanted baseball, but they had to live with us to get the bill passed," Anderson said. "I became something of a public voice for baseball — it's the 'People's Stadium,' right? That got me quite a few hate messages from hardcore Vikings fans.

"As it has turned out, we got together and did a good enough job putting together a baseball field in there. They spent a lot of money for a fence. We've had some of the best programs in America playing in the Cambria Classic and haven't had one complaint about the playing conditions."

Anderson was informed officially late in the spring that the dome would be unavailable for baseball in 2024.

"I started calling coaches, saying 'find other games,' and now we're on the road for three or four weekends when we would've been home," Anderson said.

"Have you checked prices for flights lately, even the cheapest deals you can find? Flying 40-some people and all that equipment is a killer. As it is, we now have 50 games scheduled, and the Division I limit is 56."

As for men's hoops

People with at least half a brain have been saying for two years it is idiotic for the Gophers' men's basketball team not to play an annual game with St. Thomas.

That turned into a no-brainer after the rousing success of last weekend's hockey series between the Tommies and Bob Motzko's Gophers.

Motzko noted the clear "appetite" of the public for this competition and said he would continue to look for space in the Gophers' schedule for St. Thomas.

Men's basketball?

The non-conference agreements generally are set up between coaches. John Tauer at St. Thomas is on record saying, "We'd love to play the Gophers."

Sadly, Minnesota's Ben Johnson just couldn't find space for the Tommies, for coming cheap and putting 10,000 fans in the Barn, not when the Gophers were able to pay guarantees for these red-hot attractions:

Bethune-Cookman, South Carolina Upstate, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, IUPUI and Maine, to name a handful.

In the meantime, the Gophers have been pegged to finish 14th in the Big Ten media poll for 2023-24. And as they say, "Wait 'til next year," when there are 18 teams.