Look at the Gophers athletic department and you’ll see many successful women’s programs, while several men’s programs such as football, basketball and hockey continue to try to turn things around.
Yes, you might report football coach P.J. Fleck is only in his second year, basketball coach Richard Pitino did have a ton of injuries and an expulsion after reaching the NCAA tournament in 2017, and the hockey program was underachieving, prompting a change of coaches from Don Lucia to Bob Motzko — so those programs are all looking to improve.
However, according to the most recent Learfield Directors’ Cup standings — which compares all Division I sports programs and creates an overall ranking for each university’s athletic success — the Gophers rank seventh in the country with 613.5 points. They trail only Stanford (1,104), Penn State (889.25), Michigan (881.5), Ohio State (830.75), North Carolina State (722.75) and Notre Dame (628.5).
The Gophers’ overall success is mainly driven by the women’s athletic programs.
Of the 15 sports eligible to be ranked so far in the Learfield standings, men’s sports generating points were gymnastics, swimming and wrestling. Women’s sports earning sports were basketball, gymnastics, hockey, swimming and indoor track and field.
On top of that, the latest Learfield standings only count through the winter sports of the 2017-2018 academic season. Since then, the Gophers women won the Big Ten outdoor track and field title and the softball team finished second during the Big Ten regular season, won the conference tournament and qualified for the NCAA tournament.
The list of excellent Gophers women’s coaches continues to grow and be as impressive as any school in the nation, with newly hired Lindsay Whalen in basketball, Stefanie Golan in soccer, Matt Bingle as director of women’s track and field and cross-country, Hugh McCutcheon leading volleyball and softball coach Jamie Trachsel.Stepping in during her first year as coach, Trachsel, after a slow start, is leading her squad into the NCAA tournament, which starts Friday.
Wilf talks gambling
Vikings owner Zygi Wilf grew up in New Jersey, where the battle to legalize sports betting nationwide got its start. The push reached its climax Monday, when the United States Supreme Court voted 6-3 that it was unconstitutional to ban sports betting in individual states.
The effect the new law will have on professional and collegiate teams and leagues is going to be gigantic, even though some states will take some time to adjust and take advantage of the ruling.
Wilf said he knows changes are coming.
“Well, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of sports gambling, and I think all the leagues will have to adjust to a new dynamic,” Wilf said. “How it will play out, I do not know. But I’m sure football will continue to be of peak interest to all of our fans, whether they gamble or not.”
Was he in favor of making nationwide sports betting legal?
“I’m in favor of it now because the Supreme Court ruled that way,” he said. “We’ll have to go with the flow.”
Target Field benefits
The tax bill brokered between the Twins and Hennepin County to build Target Field, which opened in April of 2010, continues to be one of the better pieces of stadium legislation around the country.
In 2017, tax collection brought in a yearly high of $36.3 million, and it shows no sign of slowing down through the first five months of 2018.
Hennepin County already has calculated its May collections because there is a two-month lag between the tax on a purchase and the collection of that tax, so the May numbers are actually for the March sales tax.
Through five months this year, the bill has collected a little over $14.9 million, which is the highest total in the first five months of a calendar year since the tax started.
If you want a look at the economic impact of having Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium might have had on the county, consider the sales tax collections for the month of February, which arrived in April.
The first weekend of February featured the three biggest days of Super Bowl Live, a free fan festival held on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. The tax that month generated $2.9 million, the highest total ever collected for February.
It was $251,000 more than was collected in the same month in 2017, $368,000 more than 2016 and $453,000 more than 2015.
That means that in February, Hennepin County saw its sales figures increase by around $166 million from 2017.
The success of the tax has been so overwhelming that the county has prepaid millions of dollars worth of bonds. Target Field will most likely be paid off 10 years ahead of schedule in 2027.
Grants, projects aided
Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat pointed out recently that the deal continues to benefit the county in ways not directly related to Target Field. Youth sports grants given annually by the county board have totaled over $20 million since the law was passed.
The approved grants for 2018 feature 33 projects, ranging from $2,000 for a turf aerator to be used at Pearl, McRae, Powderhorn and Bossen Parks in Minneapolis to $250,000 given to both Maple Grove for three new artificial turf fields at Fernbrook Fields and Minneapolis for a skate part at Central Gym Park in the Powderhorn neighborhood.
The benefits don’t end with sports grants. The Hennepin County Library system has benefited greatly from the tax, allowing facilities to be open for extra days, including Sundays at most locations, and longer hours.
One of the key provisions of the tax bill was that an equal amount should be given annually to the libraries and youth sports, so the libraries are also getting around $2 million every year and have surpassed $20 million in total benefits.
Yes, it’s amazing to think of how long and hard the struggle was to get a new stadium for the Twins, and how successful and beneficial the tax has been after all.
And there is no question that when the stadium is paid off, the tax and the revenue will be repurposed to benefit other important projects.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. • firstname.lastname@example.org