Officials, boosters promote benefits to larger community
The proposed University of Minnesota’s Athletes Village will be the school’s first new sports facilities development in over three decades. The University Board of Regents last month approved the $190 million plan, which includes three new buildings: an academic, leadership and nutrition center; a football development center, and a basketball development center.
It also includes renovating several existing buildings such as Bierman Athletic Building and a new track on the East Bank campus.
U of M Interim Athletics Director Beth Goetz, during the Oct. 30 groundbreaking ceremony behind Bierman Building on campus, called it “a historic day for Gopher Athletics and a major step forward in providing Gopher student-athletes with the facilities that will prepare them to achieve greatness in the classroom, in competition, and later in life.”
Supporters emphasize the development’s importance to the general population. The MSR asked current and former school officials and others to explain this importance.
“For young kids like me who wasn’t looking at the U as a destination place, athletics is something that might draw us here,” suggested Regent Abdul Omari, the only Black member of the school’s governing body. “Athletics touches the rest of the university.”
University President Eric Kaler told the MSR that he can understand if there are those who might not care about Gopher athletics and/or the project itself as much as “the 52,000 at the ball game the other day.”
Quincy Lewis, a Minnesota alumnus who is an associate development officer at the school, noted that having a top-notch facility for players is equally as important as quality academic buildings and equipment. He said high-quality facilities are equally important to “a kid playing athletics and one who goes to school for journalism.”
“Whether it be the new [football] stadium [or] the Athletic Village, athletics in today’s world is the window to the university,” proclaimed former Minnesota AD Joel Maturi. “I’m not sure it should be that way, but the reality of it is that in big-time college athletics, it probably is out of whack. The success of our athletes and athletic programs, in some ways, unfortunately gives success to other academic [programs].”
“There are a number of reasons” why the Village project is important, said Regent Chair Dean Johnson, who told the MSR after his remarks, “Athletics bring people together. It’s a very visual part of the university.
“For the naysayers or someone who don’t think this is all that [important], it is important for the  student athletes. What’s also important is that there is no tuition funds or student funds involved in this — it’s all private donations. It’s a rally point for the University of Minnesota and the people of this state,” Johnson stated.
Kaler earlier last month presented the regents with a gender equity plan summary report, which included recommendations from consultant Janet Judge, hired last year by the university. During a visit in February, Judge “raised potential Title IX issues in connection with the current cramped indoor athletics facilities,” he wrote.
The consultant surmised that the new Athletes Village “will address many of these issues… It will provide greater equity in all of these areas, for all Gopher Athletics teams and student athletes,” added the school president.
When asked if the new Village will help address the concerns raised in a 2014 complaint filed with the Office of Civil Rights that prompted an ongoing federal gender discrimination investigation of Gopher athletics, Goetz told the MSR, “It alleviates some of the concerns. It certainly will help us to provide for all of our student-athletes. This will be an opportunity for us to continue to do that.”
Deborah Olson, a longtime U of M women’s sports supporter whose nearly $1 million gift helped build the current soccer stadium on the University’s St. Paul campus in the 1990s, told the MSR that until the project is completed and open, she will take a wait-and-see approach. However, she believes it could give both men’s and women’s players the feeling of “being on the same page. I hope what they are saying is true; [if so,] then we are moving forward,” said Olson.
“It will be a top-of-the-line facility,” Omari predicted. It also will “make sure that we have equitable opportunities” for both genders.
Asked if the new Village will meet the State’s construction and hiring goals of 32 percent for Blacks and other people of color and six percent for females, Kaler declared, “We follow the State regulations and policies around workforce and contractors.”
“Absolutely,” added Omari in response to the same question, reiterating that all ethnic and economic groups should benefit in the Village project’s construction.
The new Athletes Village will “shine a spotlight” on the school, said Ray Hawes, who attended Minnesota 1967-71. “I think overall the excitement of having new facilities is going to help recruiting,” he pointed out. “I hope people come out and support this university.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.