There was a time, less than a year ago, when the hottest ticket on campus was a men’s basketball or men’s hockey game with serious Big Ten, WCHA or NCAA implications.
Because of this season, however, images of those games seem as fanciful as the notion that Russ Archambault could be a legitimate power forward.
The men’s basketball and hockey teams — one year removed from winning their respective leagues in the same year for the first time ever — now have something far less glamorous in common: last place.
The records of the two squads, plus that of the football team in the fall, is an unflattering 18-33. That trifecta — called the Big Three because of their ability to generate revenue for the rest of Gophers athletics — has long been the pivot upon which the school’s athletic success and marketability has hinged.
Minnesota fans have become painfully aware of those facts, mainly because that’s all they’ve been hearing about this season. All three are having a down year at the same time, resulting in a malaise surrounding Gophers athletics on campus.
What’s unfortunate is how the lack of success from the Big Three is overshadowing the success of a group of teams that have a much less glamorous name: the non-revs.
The non-revs — which include basically all other sports aside from the Big Three — are called such because they do not generate money, primarily because they don’t have the same fan base as the main sports.
Aside from the Big Three and the women’s basketball team — the women’s program with the greatest chance to gain a fan base with a winning season — all of the University’s sports teams have been successful this year.
The wrestling team, ranked No. 2 in the country, just defeated Iowa for the second time in 25 years. The team has a legitimate chance to win a national championship.
The women’s hockey team, in its first year of existence, is the fifth-ranked team in the country and has a good shot of making it to the women’s hockey final four.
Other top 25 programs include the women’s gymnastics team, men’s swimming and diving team and the women’s swimming and diving team.
In addition, the women’s volleyball team, women’s soccer team, men’s cross country team and women’s cross country team all qualified for the NCAA tournament in the fall.
But the non-revs remain in relative obscurity, loved by only a die-hard core group of fans. There are two main reasons, and they are related to one another.
Because the sports generally have sparse attendances, they are not as heavily covered by the media. The Daily, for instance, devotes more coverage to men’s basketball than men’s swimming and diving because the fan bases of the respective sports suggest more people want to read about men’s basketball.
But because the non-revs don’t have as much media exposure, fans don’t know about them and therefore don’t become interested in them.
It’s a chicken-or-egg situation, and in order for the chain to break, either the media or the fans have to pick up on a sport. Because the media, in theory, is supposed to report trends and not create trends, it usually takes fans to break the cycle.
In that respect, this year creates an opportunity for Gophers backers.
Williams Arena and Mariucci Arena will continue to draw sellout crowds because basketball and hockey have created such large fan bases.
But it’s not crazy to think fans in search of immediate satisfaction — in the form of a Gophers team having a winning year — will begin to check out the non-revs. This Friday’s wrestling meet against Iowa has already sold 7,000 tickets.
Even if attendance doesn’t go up for some of the other sports, they deserve recognition for their success. And it should not be said that this year was a loss for Minnesota athletics simply because the Big Three had off seasons.
— Michael Rand is the sports editor at the Daily. He welcomes comments at [email protected]