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Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)

 

The latest grumbling from the legion of maroon hoodies suggests that the problem with the University of Minnesota athletic department is that it's just too darn progressive.

Give the hoodies credit for originality.

The last time the Gophers' revenue sports were accused of being innovative was when Murray Warmath started recruiting black players from the South.

That turned out pretty well for society as well as in the win-loss column.

This week's complaint from the long-beleaguered is that honorable old Mariucci Arena will be renamed The 3M Arena at Mariucci. The local company will pay $11.2 million over 14 years for the naming rights.

The money will help the university fund its new Athletes Village, a key for recruiting top athletes.

There is a place for the kind of nostalgia that has led former Gophers athletes and current fans complaining about the selling of naming rights.

That place is the MIAC.

If you want the Gophers to even attempt to compete with the powers of the Big Ten in football and basketball, you sell naming rights whenever you can, for as much as you can.

You may not like it when Williams Arena is renamed "Sherwin'' Williams, or "The Dress Barn,'' but if the price is right and the funds help the basketball programs excel, what's in a name?

Gophers hockey fans are still going to call Mariucci Arena "Mariucci Arena,'' and Gophers basketball fans will always call Williams "The Barn.'' Combining naming rights with the original name is ingenious because they sell banner space on the building without altering the common language.

The university could have gone further. U.S. Bank Stadium, Target Field, Target Center, TCF Bank Stadium and Xcel Energy Center all have names that insist you refer to the company that paid the naming rights.

I'm actually encouraged by the move. The athletic department desperately needs funds, to complete the Athletes Village and to support two programs with young coaches who could make it big.

Richard Pitino is building a powerhouse basketball program, a little more than a year after his job appeared to be in jeopardy. He's become an excellent recruiter, and he has not publicly entertained the possibility of leaving. He's ideal for Minnesota - a rising young coach who hasn't priced himself out of the market.

P.J. Fleck probably won't win right away, and may want to only whisper the word "elite'' until he can produce a .500 record in the Big Ten, but even those who cringe when he utters certain adjectives should be happy to give him three or four years to prove he can build a program. Even it doesn't work out - and, face it, most major coaching hires at less-prominent programs don't work out - he's the right kind of coach to take a swing at winning at TCF Bank Stadium.

No matter how much you love Gophers hockey or the lesser-revenue successes at Minnesota - and there are many - the three key people in the department will always be the football coach, the men's basketball coach and the athletic director.

Mark Coyle has shown guts and initiative. The only way he could get away with firing Tracy Claeys after a resounding bowl victory was hiring the best candidate on the market. He did.

Pitino should have his best season in 2017-18, following up his successes of last season.

Fleck has much to prove as a Big Ten coach, but he's the right kind of hire.

This threesome have a chance to build something intriguing. Coyle needs money to pay salaries and build infrastructure.

Tacking ''3M'' onto a familiar name is a small price to pay for a large check.

Jim Souhan's podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On

Twitter: @SouhanStrib. · jsouhan@startribune.com

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July 12, 2017
 
 
 

 

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