Sunday, April 09, 2006

There's been a lot of excitement in Minnesota over the past couple days ever since the State Legislature took the first steps towards getting the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers their own on-campus outdoor football stadium. Take a mental note of all the excitement and happiness that university reps and fans are showing about their new stadium. Ten years from now, it will be a great answer to the rhetorical exasperation "What on Earth were they thinking when they built this thing?"

Make no mistake, I've long said that the Gophers desperately needed to move out of the Metrodome and build their own football stadium. College football shouldn't be played inside a dome, and no college football game should be moved to Friday night because a baseball game has first priority. The stadium proposal is certainly better than continuing to play at the Metrodome, but then again, scheduling games in a corn field in Darwin, Minnesota, right next to the world's largest ball of twine would have been a step up from the Metrodome. But the new stadium proposal is still tremendously disappointing for the future of Gopher football.

You really can’t blame Gopher fans for being optimistic. If you feed a starving man gristle, it’s still going to taste to filet mignon to him. For years they’ve heard people say that all they really needed was a new stadium to draw in recruits and turn things around for their program. But the proposed stadium plan won’t be what they need, and a few years from now, Gopher fans will be begging for another meal.

The biggest problem with the new stadium is that it looks beautiful in the preliminary drawings, but is pitifully lacking in size. The proposed design has only 50,000 seats. That’s shamefully low for a Big Ten football program. A stadium of that size would the second smallest in the Big Ten, and only about 750 seats bigger than Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Field. While that may not seem like a big deal, the size of the stadium will keep Minnesota from achieving the goals they hoped to gain by building a new stadium.

The biggest reason that fans wanted a new stadium for the Gophers was that they felt the horrible conditions at the Metrodome were keeping Minnesota from landing top recruits, especially within their home state. But if players were choosing against going to Minnesota before because of their stadium, there’s that will keep them from leaving in the future. Yes, the new stadium will be better than the Metrodome, but it won’t be better than the other stadiums of top programs around the country. Minnesota may be closing the gap between themselves and college football’s elite, but they certainly won’t be surpassing them.

If anything, the new stadium could be used as a recruiting tool against Minnesota. It’s no stretch to imagine Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis telling a player “Why would you want to go to a school that has so little confidence in their program that they’re building themselves a smaller stadium?” or Penn State’s Joe Paterno asking a player “Why go to Minnesota when you can play in front of twice as many people every home game?”

The second goal Minnesota fans had was to grow their program with the new stadium. But with a 50,000 seat stadium, there’s no room for the program to grow. Perhaps the small stadium will save them some embarrassment when the team struggles through miserable seasons and nobody wants to show up, but if the program becomes successful like people want, they won’t be able to put nearly as many fans into the seats as they potentially could. It will be incredibly difficult for Minnesota to make the jump to being an elite program when they can only generate about half of the ticket revenue that other elite programs can generate with their monstrous stadiums.

The proposed new stadium for the Gophers may seem like a great idea now, but unless someone steps in and finds a way to get them to build a bigger stadium, it’s going to leave people wondering what the University of Minnesota was thinking when they decided to build it.

4 Comments:

At 8:13 AM, Blogger Badger Backer said...

To some extent, I agree with you that it shows low ambition to build a smaller stadium.

To a greater extent, the problem in the Metrodome is that it's just this cavernous place with 20,000 empty seats most games. And, when it sells out, its probably 1/3 or more opposing fans.

I was at the Badger-Gopher game this year and when the Badgers blocked a last second punt and recovered it in the end zone to take home an improbable victory, the sound from the crowd made it seem like a Badger home game.

So I think the problem is, if you build a stadium for 60, 70, 80,000 fans, and the team doesn't improve, you're still going to be drawing 40,000 fans to the games and it's going to be either empty or dominated by visiting fans again, and they're trying to avoid that.

Plus, I don't necessarily think having 40,000 fans makes it hard to recruit. Autzen Stadium for Oregon is around there, and they're pretty good. If you build the stadium right it is still loud and exciting and you can recruit. If you have 20,000 empty seats, it just looks bad.

Sure, it will never have the great atmosphere of a Camp Randall or Happy Valley, but those are historic stadiums. They're building something new here samed after a bank in the modern era, and the atmosphere is going to be different, but I think their main goal is to just not have loads of empty seats all over the place.

 
At 3:46 AM, Blogger Bruce Ciskie said...

Chris--

Do your homework, dude. This stadium is going to be built with future expansion in mind. They can go to 80,000 seats if the need arises.

That's notable because Notre Dame Stadium was quite small by college football standards, seating a shade under 60,000 until an expansion in 1997.

It might be tacky to purposely build a smaller stadium, but they're smart enough to realize that you don't build a fanbase without creating a certain demand for your product. Once they're regularly selling out the new stadium and they start to win more often, they'll expand that thing in a heartbeat.

 
At 5:34 AM, Blogger Battle Hymn said...

Chris,
I over-estimated you man. Take 5 minutes to check out what you write as fact.
Reclamation of the Gopher football program will take years to happen. Trying to re-establish an atmosphere around game day that will attract new fans will take time. A long time. If it happens, they can/will expand up to 80,000 which will not rival some in the Big Ten for size. But, if filled will provide enough dazzle that it won't be used against them by most other colleges. Which, for this program would be miraculous considering where it is today.

 
At 9:57 AM, Blogger Chris said...

The original article I based this off of when I wrote it in April (http://www.startribune.com/587/story/356159.html) made no mention of the possible expansion. I don't believe it was until later that it was announced that there were plans for expansion.

 

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