"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)

Friday, July 19, 2013

MN sports assets becoming bridge too far

Norwood Teague, AD at U of M
"Someday I'll be your boss." That's a saying that a young person might choose for the front of a T-shirt. It's defensive. What it means is that "even though I haven't been blessed with athletic gifts that wow you and make you admire me, I do have attributes. I'll show them someday. I'll be your boss."
Certainly we all have mixed thoughts about big-time sports. We alleviate the drag of our day-to-day lives by watching sports on TV performed by individuals so distant from us, they might as well be space aliens. We don't connect with these people at all. We might as well be watching a metal ball bounce around under the glass of a pinball machine.
For every athlete who makes it to a post-game interview, where we might sense his humanity a little, there are hundreds who have crashed and burned, having "not made the cut" or gotten old, injured, beat-up, whatever.
We pay no attention to those individuals on the scrap heap. We just want to see a collection of healthy and gifted athletes representing our state, city or educational institution outrun and outjump the competition on a weekend afternoon. They had better succeed. They had better win.
They had better keep delivering that sugar high for us.
The people who own these enterprises had better keep drawing the money in, so as to enhance that competitiveness versus foes who are in the same system. In Minnesota the magnet-like pull is incredible. That's because we succumbed to the NFL's siren song that dictated we needed an opulent new home for the Minnesota Vikings.
The inevitability of that was scary. The average person likely says "why in heck do we need a stadium other than the Metrodome?"
Logic lost. The opiate of the masses, a.k.a. big-time sports lulled us. The levers of state government got pulled, greased by the incredibly big-money types, and now we shrug, having apparently accepted that we need increased gambling and certain types of taxes to subsidize.
It's a pill we swallow in order to be assured that the Vikings stay here and command our attention on autumn weekends. That pinball machine needs to keep making noise. We can't seem to find better ways to stay enriched.
We keep putting quarters into the pinball machine which has human beings, not metal balls, getting bounced around and so often discarded due to the ravages of age or getting beaten out by younger, fresher bodies.
U of M plays the game too
Because of the new Vikings stadium, we now have the University of Minnesota in a position of trying to catch up. The U has tried to close the gap for years with all too rare instances of doing so.
The position of the U of M Gopher football team up through the 1950s got whacked. My generation, the boomers, clearly chose the purple Vikings as "our team." The U continues to want to change that. That's fine as far as it goes.
But now we have an athletic director, Norwood Teague, a most contemporary corporate type of thinker, a man of money more than X's and O's, who certainly is talking money - there's no doubt about that.
I view the new Vikings stadium as a bridge too far. The same might be said of Teague's grandiose plans. We might shrug about such plans if they were discussed in the world of pro sports. Jerry Jones builds an obscenely extravagant new stadium in Dallas. That's one thing. It's another for an institution that I believe is educational in purpose, the U of M, to lay out a blueprint with a pricetag of $190 million. That's just for improvements.
The message is that athletes are a preferred and coddled class that must be catered to outside the standard academic framework.
Norwood Teague tells us we need an "academic center" for athletes. Isn't the U itself an "academic center?"
He says we need a "training table." Haven't colleges always had cafeterias? We need a women's gymnastics facility, an Olympic Sport indoor practice facility, an outdoor Olympic sport track and a wrestling training facility.
Mr. Teague expects that it will be 6-8 years before the first phase of the project is built.
Much of this impetus seems to come from having to keep up with other Big 10 schools. At what point does this "arms race" become counterproductive and superfluous for everyone?
OK, we're told the $190 million will be "private money." As if it's "play money."
"Don't worry, it's private money." When I was a kid, $190 million would have sounded like all the money in the world. We would have pronounced it like Dr. Evil. In our Wall Street-drenched world of today, wildly high numbers seem to lose their impact on us. They are numbers that just float around.
But, what else might this $190 million accomplish? What else might it be applied to, that would have a greater effect of improving people's lives? Corporations with such money at their disposal might actually be more generous with the people that work for them, that is, those people who aren't discarded because of "new efficiencies" that networked computers and tech in general are making possible.
These corporations turn a blind eye to real needs. They feed that arms race of big-time sports. They feed that opiate of the masses instead of really helping the masses.
Oh, we can still enjoy sports. It's never going away. But it doesn't need to be elevated to the Sodom and Gomorrah level, where we all know it gets far more resources than needed. We shrug and accept the inevitability of the new Vikings stadium. And now we're expected to shrug about the University demanding an astronomical amount of money - I use that adjective in paying homage to Willie Martin - so that the U might thump its chest and show primacy in athletics.
Let the teams compete with the resources they have. Not everyone can win. Think of the pressure those so-called student-athletes are under. They come and go, as do the coaches.
The real inside world of big-time sports is brutal and unforgiving. We the fans don't want to be bothered by that unpleasantness. That is, with exceptions, as many of us are now truly awakening to the hazards of the sport of football. The awakening is such, the future of the sport may very well be in peril.
Keep in mind this is one of the two major revenue sports in Division I college athletics.
This crescendo of awareness is not going unnoticed by the legal and insurance worlds. Lawyers and insurance companies may well start applying a vise to the sport.
People will still want to watch the Gophers and Vikings on the football field on weekends. Fans will want to watch even if they have conflicted feelings. That's why we'll have to rely on forces other than market forces to push football away from its mesmerizing hold on us.
Lawyers and insurance companies will slowly congregate, not to "spoil our fun" but to clean up a very real mess. The feeder system for football will become endangered, as soon as this fall I suspect, as parents wisely decide they need to take care of their own kids.
How much effort does it take to steer boys away from football to soccer? It could be done in a heartbeat. All these grandiose plans of Zygi Wilf, Mark Dayton, Norwood Teague and Eric Kaler could have their foundations threatened, by forces much bigger than Big 10 opponents.
What if the "higher education bubble" bursts? Already there's some evidence it has begun. What if the overall U.S. economy should implode, as we discover that the Federal Reserve has just been buying us time since 2008?
We will come to our senses. We will realize the ridiculous extravagance of big-time sports. We will pronounce "$190 million" as Dr. Evil would.
And we'll have more respect for kids wearing T-shirts saying "someday I'll be your boss."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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