As the only team in the Big Ten playing football in an off-campus stadium, the Gophers lack an important campus presence. Part of the charm of an American university has traditionally been its outdoor football stadium, especially in northern states where hot chocolate, thick coats and quilted blankets make fine accessories to the cold, often frigid, fresh autumn air.
Gophers head coach Glen Mason recently mentioned the team’s need for its own on-campus, open-air stadium last Friday during a press conference. “We don’t want a stadium, we need a stadium,” he declared forcefully. Although he is correct, the football team does need its own stadium, the University unfortunately signed a 30-year contract to play in the Metrodome until 2011.
The Gophers are not alone in wanting a new place to play. Norm Coleman’s attempt last year to coax St. Paul taxpayers to approve a half percent sales tax hike to subsidize an outdoor baseball stadium for the Twins — who were more than willing to relocate away from the Dome — failed, as Minnesotans are not very fond of helping wealthy stadium owners make more money.
Last week, the Vikings announced remodeling the Metrodome — adding additional suites, sideline seating and other amenities to increase revenue — would cost about $358.7 million, possibly more than the expense of a new stadium. The price tag does not include a $60 million parking lot team officials said is necessary.
But unlike the Vikings and the Twins, the Gophers cannot threaten to move to another state, as both teams have subtly done in the past couple of years. As a permanent fixture of Minnesota, Gophers football offers citizens an experience the professional teams cannot match. Besides their team, fans attend college football games for the marching band and genuine school spirit — expressed through the college crowd’s animated voices — elements lacking in professional competitions.
With more than 37,000 students, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus is one of the largest in the country and the biggest in the Big Ten. The University boasts numerous top-rated academic programs and research facilities equipped with the latest in technological achievement. Amidst a dozen current and several proposed construction projects, the University has demonstrated little commitment to building a football stadium for its consistently successful football team.
As a bolster for their proposal, officials said the Gophers would, too, have a grand place to compete. But this is not what the Gophers need. Huge video monitors, an eardrum-ringing sound system and corporate sponsored wallpaper are not needs or even wants for a college football team’s stadium.
Unless this next year’s Minnesota Student Association President Matt Clark can successfully raise the several million dollars required to fund a new open-air stadium he says he began doing last year, the money will probably have to come from the state. Although Minnesotans have not demonstrated any strong desire to subsidize a professional sports stadium — for neither the Twins nor the Vikings — taxpayers are likely to view a college football field differently.