Monday, February 27, 2012

Gopher Basketball ~ Maroon and Galled

I had planned to write about this great Minnesota v. Indiana basketball game, but if you want to know the truth, my long awaited trip to Williams Arena, better known as The Barn, was a great disappointment. As cousin Laurie said early on in the game, "Looks like they've already flipped on the suck-switch." You know something is seriously wrong when the highlight of the game is the baton twirler.

What I saw on the court Sunday afternoon was worthy of first graders the first week of the JCC Sunday morning basketball program. Players overshot the rim as if they didn't have a clue where the net was attached to the hoop. Others wandered aimlessly around while their opponents made basket after basket. All that was missing was a kid sitting down to check out the floor boards up close. 

Un-engaged playing is merely symptom; the disease is far deeper than what happens on the court. We (and I mean us folk in Minnesota) are paying Tubby Smith something in the neighborhood of $2 million (reputed to be the highest salary for any state worker in Minnesota)  to coach this team, yet the lack of team was stunningly apparent on the court. There was no cohesion, no sense of working together. Excuse Pollyanna here, but I thought a really big part of coaching was in the creation of a single minded team unit. 

Walking back to the car, we strolled through homage to the NCAA. Across the street from The Barn is the relatively new Mariucci Arena for men's hockey and next to that, Ridder Arena for women's hockey. Kitty-corner is the Gibson-Nagurski Football Center and the spanking brand new TCF Stadium... which may end up also housing the Vikings for a year then there will be two teams in there who can't manage to win a game. Down the block is the Baseline Tennis Center, and near that, Jane Sage Stadium for women's softball, Siebert Stadium for men's baseball, and Bierman Track and Field complex. The University Aquatic Center is in the cluster as well as. And yes, there is a campus rec center tucked behind some other buildings along with the Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Soccer Stadium. Every one of these has been either built since 1990, or seriously refurbished.  That's a lotta money for use by a select few people who aren't exactly working toward the betterment of all humankind.  (For the record, away from the cluster, there's also a boat house down on the Mississippi for crew, a golf course over in Falcon Heights that's used for golf, cross country running, and Nordic Skiing.... but those are just some of the little, belittled sports.)

At the same time tuition goes up and up and up.

If the ultimate purpose of the university is to educate, what education do students get in return for hosting the behemoth sports on campus? Do they get in to see the games for free? No. Are student tickets still expensive? Yes. Do athletic scholarships actually produce scholars, or do they merely give pro teams a free farm league system? 

Let me go on the record as saying I am not anti-college athletics. I am all for participation in all kinds of sports that allow lots of students the opportunity to play for fun as well as competitively. I am for college intramural sports where everyone who wants to can play, and in an ideal world the inter-school teams would develop from that pool. There's a lot to be gained from playing sports: good exercise, healthy eating habits, focus, responsibility, and yes, teamwork. 

Big sports do not bring money into the U; they bring big money into the sports program. They marginally support academia and to be honest, I find that inappropriate. The personnel it takes to run the sports behemoth do not contribute to academic excellence of this land grant university. Football, hockey, and basketball teams do not inspire great minds to come to the here to do research or teach. 

I gave serious thought as to whether winning the game would've softened my stand, but if you want to know the truth, the answer is no. And this is from the mother of a former NCAA athlete. I really do believe that the BIG sports programs are out of control and should be reigned in. I believe they ultimately do more harm than good to both the school and the kids, and in the end, they hamper the academic development of both. Yes, have a football team; yes, have a basketball team...but let's put it in perspective: they are not the reasons universities exist.

For those of you who did not see the game or read about it in your local paper, the Gophers lost, 50-69. 

Need I say more?

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Good sportsmanship begins with the spinner on the Candyland board;
teach kids early how to take turns and play fair. 


  1. The truth of this entry is honestly scary. As a coach, I would like to believe that athletic activities are an alternative way within education systems in which we help build character and leadership in students. At a high school level, we expect our students to see an overlap between the choices that they make in school and how that effects their performance on the playing field. This is how we teach integrity, perseverance, accountability, how to do the hard things and stick it out, and giving back to others as a citizen. I am not willing to accuse the U that these character traits are missing, but within the athletic department, I think the structure and purpose of its existence should come under an honest microscope to be inspected thoroughly. Many collegiate athletes do not continue on to professional athletic career - how are we using our athletic department to better equip these future leaders? In light of this blog entry, that too might be a scary thing!

  2. Colleges that concentrate mostly on academics? soundz like one of them eleet snobs... (issued with tongue planted firmly in cheek, of course).