Football stadium is the solution for women’s crew team

Two weeks ago, the Twin Cities were buzzing about St. Paul native T. Denny Sanford. For those who missed the frenzy, I’ll recap: Sanford pledged $35 million toward the construction of a Gophers on-campus football stadium. Coach Glen Mason said, “To say the least, this is a great day.”

In the words of ESPN’s inimitable Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend!”

Forget the possible deal-breaking stipulations with Sanford’s gift that were recently discovered. It wasn’t long before the women’s athletics boosters decided they wanted a piece of the action. Four days after the announcement, Deborah Olson, whose family funded the women’s soccer stadium, spoke out in the Star Tribune. She said, “My first question will be, ‘What are we doing for the rowing team?’ “

My answer to that: We should buy some football tickets and maybe build them a football stadium.

For those who think I’ve lost my marbles, and for those nonrevenue sports boosters who, in the tradition of former women’s athletics director Chris Voelz, would rather eat donkey intestines than support the dastardly football program, let me explain.

Nobody denies that the women’s crew team is in need of a new facility. Currently, the team is forced to operate without a boathouse. I know virtually nothing about crew, but I imagine a boathouse is pretty important when your major piece of equipment is a boat. This situation should be rectified if the University is truly committed to the program.

However, the facility will cost approximately $3 million to build, money the athletics department does not have. If the crew program can raise the entire sum, good for them – but I suspect they will not be able to, and they’ll turn to the tried-and-true method of asking either the University or the state for money.

Of course, this “request” will probably include the implication that, if they don’t get the cash, somebody’s going to get sued under Title IX. This is also known as blackmail.

The problem is, the athletics department annually loses money, the University’s out of cash and the state is billions of dollars in the red. This means there’s only one solution – the athletics department needs to find other revenue sources. Enter the usual sworn enemy of our local nonrevenue sports boosters – the football program.

The Gophers football program already makes a profit, but compared to the Ohio States of the world, the profit is miniscule. In the long term, according to estimates from University finance administrators, the Gophers could double their stadium revenues (such as parking and concessions) with a move to a new stadium. This estimate does not even take into consideration the probable increase in ticket sales and related revenue, thanks to the return of football to campus. In the short term, of course, the University could raise some money if they could sell a few more football tickets, maybe to some of the athletics “boosters” who refuse to help football.

For whatever reason, football seems to have become the embodiment of evil for the group of University sports boosters typified by Voelz. These people need to understand that football is not the problem. Football is the solution. The boosters who rail against the football program are not nobly fighting for the nonrevenue sports; they’re shooting themselves in the foot.

It might sound paradoxical, but it’s something the women’s rowing boosters need to understand: Buy a football ticket, and you’re supporting women’s crew. Build a football stadium, and you’re investing in order to get the cash to build a boathouse. Crew boosters and all supporters of nonrevenue sports at the University should be wholly behind the football stadium campaign, but early indications are that, as usual, they will not be.

Jon Marthaler’s column appears every other Friday. He welcomes comments at [email protected]