Years ago the University of Minnesota was an elite power in college football. The Golden Gophers won national football championships in 1934, 1935, 1936, 1940, 1941, and 1960. In addition to that they have won 18 Big Ten titles in football the last coming in 1967.
What caused the mighty Gopher football program to fall into mediocrity? Geography, weather, and racial patterns made significant contributions.
With the advent of air conditioning the Sun Belt became a more hospitable place to live. That led to population growth in the Southern climes.
In the late 60's, and early 70's black players who once had to attend traditional black colleges in the South, head North, or go West were welcomed into the SWC, SEC, and ACC. This all helped contribute to the decline of a program located in the less desireable frozen North.
All programs have their down times, even the Oklahoma's, and USC's, but the the final stake in the heart of Minnesota program was abandoning Memorial Stadium also known as the "Brick House" which was the home of Gophers football from 1924 until 1981. The stadium seated approximately 66,000 people with additional temporary bleachers, but comfortably fit around 56,000.
Pressured by downtown Minneapolis business interests and athletic boosters, the school elected to move out of the stadium to the Metrodome about two miles away during the spring of 1982. Athletic director at the time Paul Giel cited the advantages of recruiting by playing in a new NFL venue. Also, the attendance was expected to go up with protection from harsh late fall weather.
Minnesota leaders felt that the Metrodome would not be succesful unless it attracted every major sports team in the area. That runs contrary to the way things are today where multipurpose facilities have fallen out of favor.
The move to the Metrodome proved to be disappointing in the long run, as the home games lost the charm of being on a college campus. The Gophers had the lowest priority in scheduling behind the Twins and Vikings, and had to move games if the Twins were in baseball playoffs. The University also gave up most concession and parking revenue, although their portion of the rent was the lowest of the three Metrodome tenants. If you have ever been to a game at the Metrodome you realize that it was a poor man's Kingdome. While I have never been a fan of the Kingdome, it was a palace in comparison the the Metrodome.
Around the start of this decade Minnesota boosters started floating the idea of moving the program back on campus. In 2009 the Gophers will move into a new facility called TCF Bank Stadium. The 50,000 seat on-campus "horseshoe" style stadium is under construction and planned to be finished in time for the 2009 football season. The stadium will be designed to support future expansion to seat up to 80,000 people. The $288 million dollar project is being financed by corporate, alumni, boosters, and the state of Minnesota which ponied up about half of the cost.
Conceptional animated video of what TCF Stadium will look like when completed in 2009.
Minnesota is also building a new Stadium for the Twins, and the Vikings. Money will come from owners of the franchises, and the state of Minnesota. I think it is important to point out that the state didn't forget the one program they had a vested interest in, and that was the University of Minnesota. The stadium will lead to an immediate rennaisance in Gopher football, and it will also bring Big Ten titles to Minnesota once again. For Minnesota the lack of an on campus stadium was the missing piece of the puzzle.
Washington has a similar choice to make in the not too distant future. Many will urge that since we have one of the best pro football stadiums in the country downtown that it makes sense to save the money it would take to rebuild Husky Stadium and move the program to Qwest.
One only has to look at what happened in Minnesota, and what is about to happen in Miami to realize the folly in such a move.
College football doesn't work well off campus.
We don't want to learn that lesson the hard way.