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More B-Days Ahead for Williams Arena

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February 6, 2018

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A Wednesday notes column:

The University of Minnesota celebrates the 90th anniversary of Williams Arena tonight at the Golden Gophers-Nebraska game. Despite the building’s age and flaws it’s likely to be the home of U men’s and women’s basketball for many more years.

The facility is revered by Minnesotans for its history and great moments including not only for the Gophers, but also as the home of the Minnesota high school basketball tournament for many years. The raised floor is almost unique among college gyms and the proximity of the seats to the court makes for an intimate arena. When the 14,625 seat building is filled to capacity, and the Gophers are playing a big game, there are few college venues as loud and fun.

Known in recent decades as the “Barn” because of its outside shape, the building has long been criticized for crowded concourses, narrow seats, obstructed views of the court and minimal number of bathrooms. A remodeling of the arena in the 1990s included installation of many chairback seats, but bench seating also remains in place.

At least two major factors make it unlikely the arena will be replaced anytime soon. To many fans and ticket buyers, the thought of replacing the beloved building is heresy. A move to a new arena could cause a revolt by some season ticket holders and athletic department donors—telling the athletic department, “See you later.” Abandonment by supporters would be even more probable if the men’s team continues its almost annual performance of playing mediocre (and worse) basketball.

The second issue is money. The athletic department still has more than $60 million to raise in paying off the new $166 million Athletes Village project. There is also ongoing maintenance and renovations on existing facilities. And there is an overall annual challenge to fund the 23 sport men’s and women’s programs—with only football, men’s basketball and men’s hockey being profitable. Those three generate much of the money in the athletic department budget.

At tonight’s game celebrating the 1928 opening of Williams Arena several promotions and special pricing will be offered. Included will be recognition of season ticket holders and 90 cent tickets available for anyone age 90 or older at the arena box office.

Isaiah Washington (photo courtesy of Minnesota Athletic Communications)

Minnesota’s Isaiah Washington averaged 20.5 points in two losses last week to Iowa and Michigan. The Gopher point guard was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week yesterday, and he is playing his best basketball of the season.

Minnesota is 1-8 since starting center Reggie Lynch was suspended indefinitely. Starting forward Amir Coffey, with an injured shoulder, has missed seven of the last nine games.

With the second of two national Signing Days coming tomorrow, P.J. Fleck’s Gopher football class of 2018 now has a composite ranking at No. 34 by 247Sports. That’s down from No. 27 but still second best in the Big Ten West behind No. 25 Nebraska. Ohio State is No. 1 in the website’s rankings.

Sunday’s Super Bowl did more than set offensive records for the big game. Nevada’s 198 sports books had a record $158.6 million wagered on the Eagles-Patriots game, according to figures released Monday by the Nevada Gaming Control Board and reported in an online Las Vegas Review-Journal story.

Look for the Vikings to hire their new offensive coordinator before any news breaks regarding the quarterback roster for next season. It will be interesting to learn whether offensive line coach Tony Sparano is in the mix of candidates for OC. Sparano was offensive coordinator for the Jets in 2012 and before that held the same title at Boston College.

While the Vikings have three quarterbacks on their roster who are free agents, Super Bowl 52 MVP quarterback Nick Foles is under contract for one more season with the Eagles. The journeyman turned star will earn $4 million in base salary, and with a roster bonus of $3 million, will receive a total of $7 million in 2018, according to Sportac.com.

When the Twins go to spring training later this month, among the topics sure to come up in the media is Brian Dozier’s contract. The second baseman has one season remaining on his current agreement and reportedly will be paid $9 million in 2018. Dozier has led the Twins in home runs the last two seasons with a total of 76. The Mariners’ Robinson Cano at $24 million is MLB’s top paid second baseman, according to Sportac.com. He has 62 home runs the last two seasons.

Fox Sports North Plus will telecast the Twins spring training game against the Gophers February 22 game. The Thursday night game starts at 5 p.m. Central time.

The University of Minnesota has historic ties to men’s Olympic hockey but this year in South Korea only one U alum, former Gopher All-American Ryan Stoa, is on the American roster. Ex-Gopher and Hobey Baker winner Robb Stauber is the head coach of the U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team. Kelly Panek, a current Gopher, joins seven other U alums on the women’s team.

The Wild, who play the Coyotes Thursday night at home, is 4-0-1 in its last five games at Xcel Energy Center. Minnesota has dominated Arizona with an 11-1-2 record in the last 14 games.

The Wild is publicizing a free open to the public outdoor practice Sunday at the St. Louis Park Rec Center. The practice starts at 11 a.m. and is scheduled for 45 minutes.

Twin Cities golfers were able to play last February but it doesn’t look like an encore in 2018. Daytime temps may hit 40 at best between now and March 1, per AccuWeather.com.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

(1) Reader Comment

  1. avatar
    Dennis McGrath
    February 6, 2018 at 2:47 pm

    Dave: The Feb issue is one of the best ever. Particularly liked the story explaining why Williams Arena should remain and the fascinating review of how our wonderful piece retracing how our new stadia got built and what they mean to this community and state for all kinds of reasons. Writing/reporting is first rate too. Congratulations! Dennis McGrath

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