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There could be a path for the University of Minnesota men’s tennis program to continue indefinitely, according to information submitted this week to members of the school’s Board of Regents.

Tennis, along with men’s gymnastics and indoor track, are scheduled for elimination later this year to save the athletic department $1 million to $2 million annually. The decision to discontinue the sports was made last fall at the recommendation of president Joan Gabel and athletic director Mark Coyle who said Title IX issues also dictated the extreme action.

The regents voted 7-5 to approve the elimination of the three sports and assist the athletic department budget in coming years. The department is mostly self-supported from revenues generated by three sports, football and men’s basketball and hockey. A budget deficit of $40 million or more has been estimated for the department this school year.

The action to cut programs was met with a storm of controversy and emotion including by members of the tennis boosters group. This month representatives of the Baseline Club informed Coyle and the Board of Regents their findings dispute that Title IX is an issue, and funding can be established to continue the program into perpetuity.

The Baseline Club retained the services of a lawyer with Title IX expertise, according to documents given to the Board of Regents. Nationally known attorney Arthur Bryant concluded that Title IX related issues don’t prevent the tennis program from being reinstated. The University’s Office of Legal Counsel is reviewing Bryant’s findings.

Regarding finances, the booster club stated it has over $1.3 million in pledges to help make the reinstatement of tennis possible. Already in place because of past private funding is a $1.2 million endowment used for scholarships. It’s projected that the $2.5 million total can fund the tennis program for four years. With the impetus of that success, the booster club believes further private funding can solidify the program’s existence indefinitely.

The University will have to determine whether it’s in agreement with the Title-IX issue. There will also be careful scrutiny of financial pledges to determine sources and how donations will be secured. Contrary to what some observers believed last fall, the $1.2 million tennis endowment can’t be transferred to another sports program at the University without the approval of the Baseline Club.

The Baseline Club started in 1979 and has played a leading role in promoting and enhancing tennis including through its financial contribution for construction of the on-campus Baseline Tennis Center.

Budget cuts prompted by the pandemic have caused the elimination of college sports across the country, with tennis among those programs most affected. The University is projected to have 22 men’s and women’s sports for the next school year.

Worth Noting

Give credit to Tom Devine and other volunteers from Friends of Gopher Sports for their persistent lobbying to eliminate state sales tax on Gophers seat licensing, which uses the revenue for scholarships. If legislation is enacted the savings to the athletic department will be about $1 million per year, Devine said.

A bill to make the change had a hearing in the House of Representatives last week and the proposed legislation includes elimination of sales tax on seat licensing at other state schools including UMD and St. Thomas. The bill is co-authored by Representative Mohamud Noor and Senator Greg Clausen. Efforts have been made in the past, too, but volunteers are optimistic about legislative change this year. “I am proud of it,” Devine said about ongoing lobbying.

Sooner or later Gophers athletics director Mark Coyle will go before the University Board of Regents and discuss the men’s basketball coaching situation. The regents meet this week and then don’t have another regularly scheduled gathering until May 13-14.

A source familiar with U policy said Coyle doesn’t need regents’ approval to terminate coaches including Richard Pitino.

Paige Bueckers

Sports Illustrated online points out Hopkins legend Paige Bueckers, now playing for the Connecticut Huskies, could be the first basketball freshman to ever be named women’s college player of the year. She has already been honored this winter as both Big East freshman and player of the year. Former Minnesota Lynx star Maya Moore, playing for Connecticut, also earned those honors as a freshman.

NFL Network is providing extensive coverage this month of Pro Days from college campuses including North Dakota State Friday. Bison QB Trey Lance, from Marshall, Minnesota, is showing up among the first 10 selections in 2021 NFL mock drafts.

Condolences to family and friends of Duane Blaska who died at home Monday morning after a lengthy fight with cancer. Duane, 79 and from Anoka, was the heady starting quarterback on the Gophers’ 1962 team that compiled a 6-2-1 record and finished the season ranked No. 10 nationally by both the Associated Press and United Press International. If not for the controversial officiating in a season ending loss to Wisconsin in Madison, Minnesota would have gone to three consecutive Rose Bowls.

“Duane was everybody’s friend—a lovable, admirable soul with a flawless character. Bless his memory,” former teammate Paul Ramseth wrote in an email.

The Minnesota Wild, six wins over .500 with 14 wins and eight losses, is playing impressive enough to deserve a ranking of 11 or 12 among the 31 NHL teams, writes Stan Fischler of the Fischler Report.

Ross Bernstein, the Twin Cities-based sports author and entertaining national speaker, is the latest “Behind the Game” guest with co-hosts Patrick Klinger and Bill Robertson. The program is available for viewing on the “Behind the Game” YouTube Channel and via cable access throughout the state.

Catcher Mitch Garver, a 2019 Twins Silver Slugger winner, is in competition for playing time with Ryan Jeffers after Garver’s off year in 2020.

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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.

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