Adding a 12th game – how about taking a few away

The last thing Minnesota’s football team needs is another regular-season game.

Aaron Blake

When the NCAA Division I Management Council backed legislation that would add a 12th game to college football teams’ schedules starting in 2006, the reaction in the Twin Cities was nearly universal:

“Holy crap! They play 11 games?”

Anything beyond six or seven has been a little hazy in Gopherland for the last few years. A few nonconference lashings of tiny schools and a couple Big Ten wins consistently whet the fans’ appetites before the customary crawl to the finish line.

So as the NCAA Board of Directors prepares to take up the issue April 28, maybe what the Gophers’ faithful should do is lobby for the subtraction of a few games instead.

After all, the Gophers were winning championships when the seasons were shorter. Their last Big Ten title came in 1967, when they played 10 regular-season games; their last national title came in 1960, when they played nine, and their 1934, 1935, 1936, 1940 and 1941 national championship teams all played eight.

In fact, any statistician worth his or her salt should be able to prove the Gophers’ winning percentage has been inversely proportional to the number of games they’ve played.

But you don’t need a statistician to know the season has been a few games too long for the Gophers the last few years. They lost their last three regular-season games this year after a 6-2 start, their final game in 2003 with a possible New Year’s Day bowl game on the line, their last four in 2002 and three of their last four in both 2001 and 2000.

This has made for a tortured Gophers fan base that’s all worn out by the time bowl season rolls around. El Paso, Texas, and Nashville, Tenn., are lovely places to be on New Year’s Eve, but it’s often just too painful to pretend you’re not still disappointed from the events of November.

We need to consider that a 12th game might just be one too many for fans here. By the time Iowa rolled into town Nov. 18, 2006, its fans might be taking more than the goalposts; they could be taking over the entire Metrodome.

So it’s no surprise that Gophers coach Glen Mason voiced his strong opposition to the change Tuesday, saying it would be bad for the players.

However, media members won’t soon forget the last time Mason and the Gophers got to play 12 regular-season games. An extra nonconference flogging in 2003 enabled the team to go 10-3 and allowed Mason to remind anyone within earshot that this was the first Minnesota squad to win 10 games since 1905 (nevermind the fact that the team didn’t even play 10 games again until 1960).

I guess now that the all-important 10-win barrier has been broken down, it’s time to move onto things that would actually make people care toward the end of the season – such as competing for a Big Ten title.

But it’s pretty clear from the events of recent years that the last thing this team needs to do that is a 12th game.