Tuesday, October 16, 2012

U shouldn’t pay $800,000

to avoid a so-so foe

Chip Scroggins
 At a time when purse strings are tight, the Gophers are shelling out $800,000 to avoid two football games with North Carolina.
 The Gophers backed out of their home-and-home series with North Carolina in 2013-14 in favor of trying to find a lesser opponent. The kicker is even more of a doozy: The Gophers paid North Carolina $800,000 to cancel the series. That's right, an athletic department that struggles to make budget every year is forking over $800,000 to avoid playing North Carolina.

That would be comical if it weren't so pathetic.

We're not talking about canceling a game against Alabama. Or Southern California. Or even South Carolina.
No, somehow Kill has convinced Teague that for the good of building his program, it's wise if they avoid playing a road game against an opponent that presumably resides in their weight class.

What kind of message does that send to players, fans and alumni? The financial penalty for breaking the contract is bad enough, but it also creates the perception that the Gophers are afraid to test themselves against competent competition before embarking on the Big Ten season. Besides, would a road loss to North Carolina be so detrimental to the long-term plan that it necessitates taking such a significant financial hit?

Good luck selling that one to a fanbase that already has had its patience and loyalty stretched way too thin. The Gophers can't fill 50,000-seat TCF Bank Stadium even for conference games, and they practically beg fans to show up on a weekly basis. They don't give fans much incentive to make that investment, however, when they put together a nonconference schedule that's embarrassingly soft.

Take 2014 for example. Their nonconference schedule features four home games -- Eastern Illinois, Middle Tennessee State, San Jose State and now whatever team they find to replace North Carolina, presumably another pushover.

Teague hopes to plug the hole on the schedule with a pair of "guarantee games" -- a one-time deal with a low-level opponent for a six-figure sum -- because that would enable them to offset the North Carolina buyout cost with revenue generated from a home game. That would cushion the blow, but it still doesn't change perception that the Gophers are ducking legitimate competition.

Teague said university President Eric Kaler gave his approval to spend $800,000 (which will be made in payments over several years) to cancel a football series in an era of tight budgets.

The Gophers probably won't find much support outside of campus. Look, they can build their football program however they choose, but they wrote a big check to avoid playing a middle-of-the-road team in a mediocre conference.

That doesn't inspire much confidence.

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