Monday, July 16, 2012

Practice facility still a dream for Gophers

Minnesota’s Tubby Smith has made a push for a new practice facility since his arrival in 2007.

Former athletic director Joel Maturi promised to build one.

Five years have passed.

And the university has failed to attract the private donors who are capable of funding the project.

It’s a baffling predicament for the Big Ten university.

A school that can construct a $300 million football stadium can’t find the money to build a practice facility at a fraction of the cost? A school that’s located in a major metropolitan area filled with Fortune 500 companies can’t get any corporate sponsor to open its checkbook? No rich alumni seeking hefty tax breaks?

Some of the program’s supporters have pushed for a greater overhaul that would include the renovation of Williams Arena or the construction of a new building. But that project would cost much more than a practice facility.

Great ideas. But without the money to move forward, that’s all they are. That’s all they’ve been in recent years.

A new regime, however, has vowed to make progress.

Minnesota’s new athletic director, Norwood Teague, says he’s focused on making a new practice facility a reality for the program.

“That project will be a top priority,” Teague, former athletic director at VCU, told the Pioneer Press. “I think it's a necessity for your program and your program's future. We can't afford not to have one for both [the men's and women's] programs.”

The Gophers’ administration recognizes the need.

Iowa and Nebraska, however, moved past that point years ago. They’ve raised the money and put shovels into the ground.

And in the end, those moves could shift the league as some of the teams that have struggled in recent years continue to build.

Five Big Ten squads signed top-25 recruiting classes in 2012, according to’s rankings.

Four of the teams have attracted high-level talent with ease in recent years. Michigan State, Michigan and Indiana should be top-10 squads when the preseason polls are released. Purdue is rebuilding without Robbie Hummel but its nationally ranked recruiting class will speed up the process.

Iowa’s standing at No. 25, however, was surprising, given its recent challenges.

It’s justifiable. Adam Woodbury (No. 39) and Mike Gesell (No. 75) are ESPNU100 prospects who could help the Hawkeyes -- a team that hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2006 -- turn the corner in the Big Ten.

Iowa’s brass certainly believes. It just rewarded Fran McCaffery with a seven-year deal that will pay the head coach a minimum of $1.66 million per season.

The Hawkeyes have invested $47 million in their basketball program since 2007, according to Scott Dochterman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette. That number includes the renovation of Carver-Hawkeye Arena -- one of my favorites -- and a new basketball practice facility.

The Hawkeyes’ commitment to the sport should help the program rise in the Big Ten. Again.

And they’re not alone. As my colleague Jason King pointed out last week, Nebraska is banking on big dollars to boost its basketball program, too. That squad will compete in the new Pinnacle Bank Arena next season. A new practice facility for the Huskers was completed last year.

Price tag: $200 million, according to Tim Miles.

The “if you build it, they will come” theory is already paying off for Iowa. And it will help the Huskers in the future, too.

Minnesota, however, continues to hope and wait, while its peers make moves.

Source: ESPN, College Basketball Nation Blog

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