Saturday’s pathetic Homecoming loss to Michigan State was the last straw. The 27-9 trouncing was the football team’s 10th-straight Big Ten loss and virtually seals the Gophers fate of yet another losing season. Also hanging by a thread is Coach Jim Wacker’s job. The congenial coach was given a win-five-games-or-else ultimatum at the beginning of the season and despite his enduring faith in the team’s potential, attaining that goal is now all but impossible. With Big Ten juggernauts Michigan and Ohio State up next, Wacker should avoid prolonging the inevitable and resign now.
In large part, the national reputations of universities rests on the padded shoulders of their football teams, and Minnesota needs a winning program now more than ever. This decade has been marked by one scandal after another, from controversy in the Medical School to the current tenure debacle. Our reputation as a leading research university is jeopardized on many fronts. But through positive publicity, a winning football team could offset much of our marred image and restore public pride in the University.
It seems unfair and even irrational to put such a burden on the football team. After all, what does a sports program have to with our academic standing? But a college’s identity (particularly a Big Ten school) is built around its football team. In subtle but very real ways, that identity affects everything from attracting top professors and students to acquiring research grants. A winning team doesn’t solve our problems, but it has the potential to minimize their consequences on public attitudes.
The football team also plays a large role in securing alumni contributions. As the most prominent aspect of a school, a winning program gives grads a big, warm-fuzzy feeling about their alma mater. It’s a lot easier to loosen those purse strings after a big win than it is after another predictable defeat.
Furthermore, the Gophers’ failure on the football field casts a shadow over an otherwise thriving athletic program. Women’s gymnastics, swimming and diving, soccer, softball and tennis all had winning seasons last year. So did men’s baseball, basketball, golf, gymnastics, hockey, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field and wrestling. But first in the minds of people across the state and nation when it comes to Minnesota athletics are the Gridiron Golden Goofers. Though it may be absurd, the football coach has more power over the reputation of a University than its president. Lou Holtz and Joe Paterno are household names, but who knows the terms of tenure at Notre Dame or the academic ranking of Penn State? Right or not, a disproportionate amount of responsibility falls on a football coach. It simply comes with the territory.
We like Coach Wacker. We like his awe-shucks, boy-howdy demeanor and unflagging boosterism. We wish he was the one who could restore football glory to the University. But this is his fifth season at the helm and under his guidance the program has gone from bad to worse. If Wacker could hoist the Gophers out of their perennial cellar, it would’ve happened by now. It’s time to step aside and let somebody else take a crack at this daunting task.