Tennis, hockey facilityinvestment justifiable

In the governor’s 1996 capital bonding request, he included a $10 million allocation for a new women’s hockey arena and a permanent indoor home for the men’s and women’s tennis teams. The proposed Mariucci Arena addition would house an Olympic-sized ice sheet and 14 tennis courts. Both facilities are needed, and both merit legislative support.
The men’s tennis team is the reigning, four-time Big Ten champion, but since the matches take place off-campus, many students may not know it. Both tennis teams practice and compete indoors at the 98th Street Racquet Club in Bloomington and have to commute an hour each day to and from practice.
Because the club is privately owned, the team is only allowed on the courts during official practices. A permanent, on-campus space would surely help the competitiveness of both teams by giving them the home-court advantage they deserve.
The outdoor facilities used during warm-weather months have their problems — they’re unsheltered from the wind, adjacent to a busy street and have poor fan accommodations. “I don’t know of a major university in a cold-weather climate that doesn’t have its own facility,” men’s coach David Geatz said recently. Tennis is one of the University’s most successful athletic programs and deserves more respect and acknowledgement.
The case for a new women’s hockey facility isn’t based solely on respect, but on equality as well. The men’s team plays in one of the finest college hockey arenas in the nation. If the University is going to make a commitment to gender equity, it should back it up with the necessary facilities. Without arenas specifically designated for women’s sports teams, they will always remain a guest in someone else’s home.
The amateur sports community in Minnesota supports this proposal because of a shortage of available ice time in the city and state. The University currently sells ice time in Mariucci to youth hockey groups. An additional arena next door could, in the long run, bring more money into the athletic departments.
Likewise, the new facility could piggyback on the popularity of the existing arena. “Mariucci is the mecca for hockey people across the state,” said Pat Forciea, assistant director of men’s athletics. “Whether you are 5 or 50, everyone wants to play there.”
Critics oppose the arena because they believe too much money has been wasted on sports arenas and more should be funneled toward academics. But the recent construction of new arenas was all financed by private fund raising and ticket revenues. In Minnesota, “we have funny circumstances,” Forciea said. “The Gophers, the only state-owned sports teams, are paying for their own facilities while other privately owned teams are asking for, or — in the case of the Target Center — have already received, state support.”
The proposed state investment in non-revenue collegiate sports like the tennis programs and women’s hockey is justifiable. The University and the Legislature should build an arena that will strengthen the women’s hockey program and reward the successful tennis programs.