"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Are these new football stadiums deluding us?

I have regularly shown some skepticism about the new generation of football stadiums for both the big-time as well as smaller programs.
I have recalled the one time I attended a game at the ballyhooed St. Cloud State Husky Stadium, and noted how SCSU's progression with its football venues has paralleled Morris'.
Morris has abandoned an intimate, neighborhood type of venue (Coombe Field) for a setting that just doesn't seem as inviting ("Big Cat"). St. Cloud State has gone from cozy Selke Field to an airy monstrosity located next to the opulent hockey arena.
And while we're at it, let's look at our venerated University of Minnesota. The U and its football fraternity, constantly groping for ways to escape mediocrity and then pleading like a crying infant for the remedy, have a new stadium to replace the Metrodome.
The Dome once replaced Memorial Stadium. I remember seeing a game at Memorial Stadium when Tony Dungy was the Gopher quarterback and Keith Fahnhorst was in the line. Cal Stoll was the coach.
I attended games at St. Cloud's Selke Field, even playing in the pep band a couple times, and joined in with that rather distinctive ebullience and zest for life associated with St. Cloud State students. Words can't fully describe.
And my association with Coombe Field here in Morris was long and deep.
Maybe it's time for a report card!
How have we come out after the building boom which was fed by the good economic times that now have to be referred to in the past tense? What did all that money buy us?
The U of M Gophers are in their second season at TCF Bank Stadium. Apparently going to a stadium that is named after a bank doesn't evoke particularly warm feelings. In its first year, a lack of student body support became the topic for a prominently displayed Star Tribune article. In its second year, we're learning most vividly that "The Bank" has done nothing to help the U's competitiveness.
The Gophers lost to University of South Dakota Saturday. The Star Tribune had the orgasmic pleasure of writing the headline "Coyote Ugly." (USD is the "Coyotes." Permit them to howl.)
Two years ago the Gophers lost to NDSU (the Bison). Last year they almost got clipped by SDSU (the Jackrabbits, a nickname I love).
Here, in the land of sky blue waters? I think the Minnesota legislature needs to step in.
Success cannot be guaranteed in the Big Ten because all those schools are big-time. Someone has to finish at the bottom, and there isn't necessarily a lot of shame associated with that.
But the U of M should not be losing in a showcase sport to these North and South Dakota schools.
I'll admit that I didn't give much thought to the Gophers Saturday until I heard the game's final score. It was 41-38 which means that it was a wild, sandlot type of game. There is no excuse for the Division I Gophers letting the USD offense run wild like that.
My limited interest or awareness was partly due to the fact that our family has a Mediacom TV arrangement, therefore there are limited Gophers events available for us to watch. After a while you naturally lose interest.
But the Gophers' fate on the playing field will always be something for us Minnesotans to monitor.
The governor and legislature need to start becoming hands-on. I have written in the past that U of M football might benefit if we could get an in-state Division I football rivalry going, and I have suggested St. Cloud State (my alma mater) as possibly the best candidate for that.
Whatever NDSU in Fargo can do, St. Cloud State has to be able to likewise do. St. Cloud State has its relatively new football stadium, which has potential for add-ons, and it's not hard to envision Division I football eventually taking root there.
But no! Not only does this scenario now seem distant, we have the St. Cloud State administration suggesting that this school might actually cut football! I was flabbergasted to learn of that. I wrote an entire blog post about this.
So, we have TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis giving virtually no infusion to the Gophers football program, and Husky Stadium in St. Cloud providing the backdrop for a football program that might actually get axed.
These new venues were not cheap to construct. What did they accomplish?
And what about our own Big Cat Stadium here in Morris? On Friday our high school team, the Tigers, played its first home game of 2010 there. The weather was horrible so we couldn't have expected much of a fan turnout. Sure enough it appeared very low.
Not only that, fans don't seem to be fond of sitting on those bleacher seats. The hardy ones who do come, seem to prefer standing, either at the front or higher up at the rear.
But there are rows upon rows of empty bleacher seats, even when the weather is favorable and more people come. If this is how people prefer watching football (i.e. standing), why are these stadiums designed the way they are?
In our increasingly obesity-conscious culture, why are we encouraging people to just come and sit and perhaps munch on concessions, as a gesture at the shrine of elite athletics, especially for a sport that may have a cloud hanging over it because of a sudden and increasing awareness of head injuries?
We saw the sport of boxing get practically marginalized by this. It's now considered almost barbaric by many.
Is football heading down the same road? We now learn that Lou Gehrig may not have died from Lou Gehrig's Disease. He had head trauma throughout his athletic career which included football, in an age when football was rougher than it is today.
UMM has a small college program at a relatively low tier in the collegiate football universe. Nothing wrong with that but I'm not sure we need the likes of Big Cat Field to showcase it, any more than the high school needs it.
The high school varsity has just three more regular season home games slated there. Home playoff games are never guaranteed, but this year's Tigers are in good position to get one. After that, Big Cat Field becomes a showcase for high school playoff teams that often travel a considerable distance to get here.
Maybe Morris can still demonstrate that it can bust its buttons over Big Cat Field. A good opportunity presents itself tomorrow (Friday) when rival Minnewaska comes here. Will we actually see those bleacher seats filled, or close to it? Will the weather cooperate?
And will the U of M Gophers decide they'd rather be in that Chilean mine than to make another appearance at their shiny new stadium, which maybe should be located in Vermilion, South Dakota?
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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