Tennis ignored in new arena plan

Those “How a bill becomes a law” videos back in elementary school made things look so easy. A group of happy senators and representatives hammered out a solid piece of legislation, and an eager governor (or president, take your pick) slapped a willing signature on it.
The current state legislative session, however, is anything but routine. During the session, the debate over a new stadium for the Minnesota Twins has created much of the rumpus-room atmosphere around the Capitol. One lawmaker even described the process as “crazy.”
But this week, members of the Legislature’s Higher Education Conference Committee proved they can be just as clownish in regards to smaller matters. Never mind funding $500 million projects — these people can’t even allocate a small fraction of that sum sensibly.
The money in question is $10 million the committee slated for the construction of a new women’s ice hockey facility. On the surface, there is no problem. Women’s hockey will begin as a varsity sport at Minnesota next year. Obviously, some sort of rink-like structure would be a good place to play. OK, now we’re getting somewhere.
But wait. There are a couple of problems. 1) The tentative plan is to build the new facility adjacent to Mariucci Arena, where the outdoor Fourth Street tennis courts are now. 2) The original plan for the new facility included a set of indoor tennis courts on the second level. The conference committee, however, approved a building with three to four ice sheets — eliminating the space for tennis courts.
In some practical terms, the idea makes sense. Additional rinks could be rented out to private interests when the women’s hockey team wasn’t using them, thereby generating income.
But meanwhile, the Gophers men’s and women’s tennis teams would be hung out to dry. Not only would the on-campus, indoor courts sought by men’s coach David Geatz and women’s coach Martin Novak be pushed aside, but the team’s outdoor facility would also be bulldozed to make way for the new hockey arena.
In order to play indoors, the tennis teams will continue to travel 30 minutes each way to the 98th Street Racquet Club in Bloomington. And students will continue to wonder if the Gophers compete in tennis and, if so, where.
Or, perhaps in warm weather, players could station themselves on both sides of Fourth Street, near the site of the current outdoor courts, and lob balls back and forth to each other.
Those scenarios don’t appeal to Geatz, who has faced the uphill battle of recruiting players to a school without its own on-campus, indoor facility. He and Novak would also like to see two winning programs (both teams qualified for NCAA Midwest Regional tournaments this year) get rewarded.
“It doesn’t seem to make sense to me that the University would tear up our courts,” Geatz said. “There would be no place to play anymore. I hope it’s not true. But if it is, I’m sure they have something in mind for us.”
Although it’s seemingly inconceivable the Legislature would completely forget about tennis, plans for future funding or future sights are ambiguous.
Sen. Cal Larson, R-Fergus Falls, dropped this nugget of wisdom: “There is no reason we can’t move the tennis courts. They could be placed anywhere.”
Yeah, they can put them anywhere they want. Perhaps another lawmaker will suggest rebuilding the courts in the outfield of the new Twins stadium. Maybe they can even fund the courts with revenue from slot machines at Canterbury Downs.
In any event, no one should be videotaping this year’s debacle of a legislative session with the intent of producing an instructional video for young, elementary school minds. Either that, or keep the cameras rolling and make a whole new series: “How a bill becomes a flaw.”