At first it was a promised place that ultimately convinced Tubby Smith to leave Kentucky for Minnesota. Then after he was fired, it became Teaguetown, which was named for former U-M athletics director Norwood Teague, who dreamed and lobbied for it.
Now Teague is gone, and last week ground was broken for the Athletes Village that is to be built behind and around Bierman Building. Let’s call this Village Gopher Land.
“It’s a student athlete village,” declared Minnesota President Eric Kaler in his remarks at the ceremony, before he and others used the ceremonial shovel and scooped the dirt into the ceremonial hole. After the ceremony, the MSR asked the school leader why the off-campus population, or for that matter, the school’s non-athletic students, care about this. Kaler and other supporters of the village all gave the same answer: We need it.
“It touches everybody,” claimed Lou Nanne, the chairman of the fundraising campaign for the university’s first major athletic construction project in over 30 years.
The $190 million project is entirely funded by donors, said U-M Regents Chair Dean Johnson, who pointed out that winning athletics brings in more money. He cited that both Northwestern and Wisconsin saw a 30 percent increase in donations after their respective football teams demonstrated gridiron success.
Village Gopher Land, when completed, will include new academic, nutrition and “leadership” centers, the basketball practice facility once promised to former Coach Smith, a new indoor football practice field, and renovations to Bierman, where coaches’ offices are located.
During Homecoming in September, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany gave his blessing on the U-M project, and the Regents later co-signed it in October.
You need top-notch facilities to “encourage prospects” to your school, said Delany. “They’ve made great progress here,” he told local media outlets, including the MSR, on Minnesota’s efforts to keep up with the conference Joneses. “I think what you will see around the conference, whether it is Maryland or at Purdue, they are thriving to be able to create facilities similar to those that exist at Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State,” noted the commissioner.
“We don’t want to be second to anyone,” admitted Nancy Lindahl — she and her husband are longtime University of Minnesota benefactors and volunteers — meaning they have big bucks and they freely give it to Gopher sports, which she quickly pointed out, “need this facility.”
But does this “second to anyone” proclamation also apply to graduation rates among Black players, which historically have been among the lowest, not only at the school they attend, but nationwide as well? Does the proclamation extend to players being fully prepared for life after sports? The proposed “Center for Excellence”— already with a corporate name — “focuses on developing leaders,” according to a promotional brochure. (Please note: this reporter’s longstanding policy of not using corporate names unless we are paid to use them extends to the U-M’s Village Gopher Land).
“World class facilities are a difference-maker,” said Delany, who clearly wasn’t talking about anything but athletics.
Kaler stated that the Village will move Minnesota athletics into the 21st Century. Supporters stated they believed this as well.
Funny, many of us thought that players, rather than fancy built buildings, made the difference. However based on last week’s outdoor, not-open-to-the-general-public type event attended by Gopher funders and prospective funders, we were wrong.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.