You know that guy Kevin Warren who used to live in suburban Minneapolis and was chief operating officer of the Minnesota Vikings? Yeah, the nice man who moved to Chicago and became commissioner of the Big Ten Conference early this year.
A few years ago Mr. Warren was on the University of Minnesota search committee to choose the school’s next athletic director. The committee made a top hire in Mark Coyle who since 2016 has made his presence felt in the Gopher Athletic Department.
Now, Warren might be able to do the Gophers another good deed. His Big Ten office announced last week that all fall sports teams will play conference opponents only—if there is competition in the coming months. With COVID-19 placing question marks everywhere, there is no guarantee of a Big Ten football schedule, but it’s a possibility that has Gophers fans waiting with high expectations after last season’s team earned an 11-2 record and No. 10 final ranking in the Associated Press national poll.
Before the pandemic, Big Ten football teams were each scheduled to have nine conference opponents, plus three nonleague games. In 2020 it is the East Division’s turn to have each of its teams play five home conference games, with four on the road. The West Division, including the Gophers, had the more favorable five at home, four away scheduling in 2019.
Conjecture is the Big Ten may write a composite football schedule giving each of the 14 teams 10 conference games. That means the Gophers and other teams in the West pick up a home game. And here’s where our friend Kevin comes in.
Mr. Commish, how about sending the Rutgers Scarlet Knights to Minneapolis for a season opening game Saturday, September 12? The Gophers and Knights originally had nonconference games scheduled that day, so the date is open for both programs.
Despite the school’s fancy nickname, the Knights have been pretty dismal in football and basketball since joining the Big Ten in 2014. Pay me a buck for every Big Ten fan who believes the far away New York City area school never should have been invited to join the conference. But the Scarlet Knights are here (thanks, former commissioner Jim Delany) and no doubt other West Division teams covet adding Rutgers, 2-10 last year, to their schedules.
The Gophers and Knights have only played twice in football, including one game in Minneapolis in 2016. Minnesota and Rutgers met last season (Goldy won 42-7) but they aren’t scheduled to play again until 2022 so it’s not like we see Ozzie Nelson’s and Elizabeth Warren’s old school every fall.
The Knights are hardly a box office attraction and that just adds to the appeal of bringing them to Minneapolis in September. The Gophers and other college football programs won’t be fretting about filling up their stadiums, with teams expected to either play in front of empty stands or at maybe 25 percent capacity. Bingo, great year to schedule Rutgers at TCF Bank Stadium.
Now lest you think we’re getting over confident about taking on Rutgers, I will be the first to recommend having a bottle of Maalox nearby when watching September 12. See the Scarlet Knights talent level will again be pretty minimal but the team has a new coach in Greg Schiano, who in a previous stop in Piscataway had Rutgers knocking on the door of football royalty. Schiano, in his first game back with the Knights, will have his team prepared and motivated for an upset.
So Kevin, it’s not like we’re asking for a gift—just a little favor when your office makes revised schedules.
Here’s how the entire new Gopher schedule could look with 10 conference opponents:
September 12: Rutgers
September 18 (Friday night): Iowa
September 26 (previously BYU): at Maryland
October 3: Bye (was Maryland)
October 10: at Wisconsin
October 17: Michigan
October 24: at Illinois
October 31: at Michigan State
November 7: Purdue
November 14: Bye
November 21: Northwestern
November 27 (Friday): at Nebraska
Indianapolis defensive end Kyran Montgomery, considered a rising recruit, has narrowed his college possibilities to the Gophers, Florida State and Missouri. Rivals.com ranks him a four-star, while 247Sports labels Montgomery a three-star.
With a couple of recent de-commits, and the success of other programs, the Gophers’ 2021 recruiting class has dropped to No. 20 in the national team rankings by 247Sports. In the spring Minnesota was No. 5 and second in the Big Ten only to Ohio State. With the guess that Gophers coach P.J. Fleck will line up another five to seven verbal commitments before signing days in December and February, the Gophers could improve their No. 20 ranking.
After last night’s Byron Buxton left foot injury at Target Field, expect test results later today from the Twins regarding the center fielder’s status in the days ahead.
Brian Cosgriff, the seven-time state champion girls basketball coach who recently announced his retirement from Hopkins after 21 seasons, doesn’t plan to coach again but will teach physical education full time at Providence Academy in Plymouth. “It’s closed (coaching again). It’s just time to do something else,” the 59-year-old Cosgriff told Sports Headliners.
Cosgriff has a brother who died at 61, and this spring his sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. He mentioned family when talking about his retirement decision, and also colleagues at Hopkins who are moving on. He plans to continue working the chain crews for Royals and Gophers football games. “You’re going to have to pry my dead hands off the (marking) pole,” Cosgriff joked.
Edina’s Mardy Fish, the former highly ranked pro tennis player, won the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament in Nevada Sunday.
How effectively will 23-year-old Twins second baseman Luis Arraez hit in his second MLB season? That will be among the most intriguing storylines during the 60-game schedule the club starts soon, with its first game July 24.
No Twins rookie ever had a better batting average than Arraez’s .334 in 2019. That’s better than Tony Oliva’s .323 in 1964 and way beyond Rod Carew’s .292 in 1967. The .334 was the fifth highest average for a MLB rookie in the last 100 years, with Arraez challenging storied hitters like Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio.
For career batting average no Twin was ever the equal of Carew who flirted with a .400 season in 1977 and made the cover of Time magazine. Carew, a left-handed hitter like Arraez, also played second base. Both are Latin American born and arrived in Minneapolis in their early 20’s with reputations as contact hitters. Differences between them are Carew had more foot speed and he thrived on chasing pitches other hitters wouldn’t, while Arraez is known for his strike zone discipline.
In 19 seasons Carew had a lifetime batting average of .328, won seven American League batting titles and earned a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. No one is predicting yet that Arraez will have a future like Carew but what fate awaits him in the shortened season ahead? Was his first season an aberration?
For what it is worth, Arraez hit only .103 in 29 at bats in spring training. But over longer stretches he has never faltered at the plate including a minor league career batting average of .331. If pitchers thought they were figuring him out toward the end of last season it didn’t show because his September batting average was .324.
“He is a very tough out,” Oliva told Sports Headliners last year. “He hits to the whole field. He doesn’t strike out too often. Ninety-nine percent of the time he swings (at) a strike.”
Arraez’s 29 strike outs were the fewest in the majors among players with at least 350 plate appearances last season. That’s part of what gave him the confidence to say last week his goals for the shortened season include hitting .400.
Carew, who like Arraez sprayed the ball all over the field, hit over .400 in 60-game stretches, according to MLB.com and the Elias Sports Bureau (July 6 story). In his new book, One Tough Out, Carew talks about being in a zone in 1977, including having 40 hits in 87 at bats. On July 1, 1977 his average was .415. He finished the season at .388 after trying to become the first major leaguer to hit over .400 since Williams batted .406 in 1941.
“To understand the difficulty of keeping an average above .400, consider what happened the day I reached .415,” Carew writes. “I went 2-for-5…and my average dropped.”
In Carew’s second season he hit .272 and wasn’t happy with his swing. In his book he credits manager Billy Martin with helping him make changes. Things clicked with Carew batting .332 in 1969 and setting off a streak of 15 seasons above .300.
Think Arraez will sign up for that?
Cosgriff Retiring & Other Notes
Hopkins girls’ basketball coach Brian Cosgriff is retiring and told players of his decision this morning. He has been the Royals’ head coach for 21 seasons, with seven state titles, 19 Lake Conference championships and 14 section titles. Wishing all the best to Brian who is one of the state’s great coaches ever, and a classy gentleman.
Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, writing a July 6 story for Si.com about how savvy the Tampa Bay Rays are, points out the organization found D.J. Snelten on the internet this past offseason. The former Gopher pitched for the independent ball Chicago Dogs last year but this winter rebuilt his delivery and posted a video impressing the low budget Rays.
Verducci reports Snelten is throwing the ball 96 miles per hour after previously not even being in the 90s. He also has an effective change up. During the offseason he lost 70 pounds.
Snelten, with a minor league contract, is trying to make the Rays roster after being drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 2013 and having many baseball stops since then.
In these trying economic times, colleges are cutting sports programs with tennis sometimes a popular target. Among justifications are the United States Tennis Association provides an alternative for players in developing their games, and scholarships at many colleges go to foreign players in large numbers.
Nobody is indicating the 25-sport Gophers program, including tennis, will see any cuts soon. Of note, though, is five of the eight players on the men’s tennis roster are from other countries, along with two Minnesotans and one South Dakotan. Six of the nine players on the Gopher women’s roster are foreigners, with one Minnesota native.
As of now, the Bloomington-based men’s WCHA has commitments from only three schools for the 2021-2022 season—Alaska Anchorage, Alaska Fairbanks and Alabama Huntsville. Seven schools are leaving the WCHA to form their own league after next season.
Men’s WCHA Commissioner Billy Robertson is working hard to bring three or more new members into his league for 2021-2022. The candidates include schools located in or near major metropolitan areas: St. Thomas (Twin Cities), Simon Fraser (Vancouver), Lindenwood (St. Louis), Arizona State (Phoenix) and Long Island (New York City).
“All are in major markets that would help bring a higher profile to the league…and increase revenue streams and sponsorship opportunities,” Robertson wrote in an email.
Jay Weiner, the former Star Tribune sportswriter and Olympic specialist who more recently held positions at the University of Minnesota and at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, announced his retirement on Facebook Tuesday.
Enjoy a Tuesday notes column with news about prep recruiting, the 3M Open and more.
Don’t look for megastar recruit Chet Holmgren from Minnehaha Academy to announce his college choice this year. While recruits and their families can tire of the relentless contact by recruiters, Holmgren’s father David told Sports Headliners his 7-foot, multi-positional son is unlikely to accept a college basketball scholarship during the fall signing period.
David Holmgren said the most informed decision can be made in the spring because of several factors. Those variables can include the job status of coaches, and transfers going in and out of programs.
Chet Holmgren, who may emerge next winter as the consensus top recruit in the nation for the class of 2021, has a list of seven schools he is focusing on including Minnesota. David, a former Gopher, said his son’s final choice will be “more up to him” than it will be a collaborative family decision.
Totino-Grace tight end Joe Alt, who was a top target for Minnesota’s 2021 recruiting class, verbally committed to Notre Dame yesterday. 247Sports national recruiting analyst Allen Trieu had predicted Alt would choose the Irish over Minnesota, Iowa and other offers.
In a story by Trieu yesterday he quoted John Alt, Joe’s dad, that the recent departure of often praised Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle was a factor in Joe not selecting the Hawkeyes. “He wanted to be trained by (Chris) Doyle and Doyle is gone,” said John Alt, a former Hawkeye. “It fell into place with Notre Dame and it’s hard to argue it.” …
Alt likely is attracted to Notre Dame by a combination of factors including the program’s success in developing NFL linemen, the school’s academic excellence, faith-based values, and storied football tradition. Alt is close to four-star status, per 247Sports.
Jeff Ferguson, who retired as Totino-Grace’s head football coach in February, knows a lot about Alt and has high praise for him as a person and football player. “I think he is just a tremendous prospect,” Ferguson told Sports Headliners.
Alt was a ninth grade quarterback, sophomore inside linebacker and last fall as a junior played tight end for Totino-Grace. In college he projects as an offensive tackle. His adaptability to new positions has been dictated by more than growth spurts that now have him at about 6-7, 240 pounds. “He is very intuitive on the field,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson described Alt as an “amazing” young man who is likeable, level headed and focused on football, academics (near 4.0 student), family and friends.
Ferguson was the Eagles head coach for 18 seasons, winning eight state titles. He continues to work part-time at Totino-Grace in fundraising and while he may coach in the future it won’t be as a head coach.
In March Ferguson’s wife Barb was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has experienced 14 chemo treatments, with three more to go before a mastectomy in September. Ferguson is upbeat about his wife’s health, referring to the cancer as “treatable and curable.”
Spring Lake Park alum Troy Merritt tied for eighth last weekend at the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club. Merritt tied for seventh in last year’s 3M Open, winning almost $180,000 in his home state. This year’s 3M Open field won’t entirely be known until July 17 but tourney boss Hollis Cavner expects Merritt to play.
The PGA Tournament will be July 20-26 at TPC Twin Cities, and Cavner told Sports Headliners Merritt could do well again. “Good story and good contender,” Cavner said.
Merritt not only knows the course but it’s favorable to the Minnesotan’s fairway and short game efficiency. “It’s a second shot course,” Cavner said about TPC, a layout that doesn’t mandate bombing the golf ball off the tee.
Will Tiger Woods play for the first time in the second-year tournament? “We have no clue,” Cavner said while pointing out many players are delaying commitments these days.
How about paying $1,000 for a club seat between the 30 yard lines at US Bank Stadium for the September 13 Vikings-Packers game? That was the top price yesterday at Ticket King, per Mike Nowakowski of the local ticket outlet.
Nowakowski said his business is down 95 percent since March and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While his office is taking calls about tickets for the Vikings and college football, he isn’t optimistic about business returning to normal until next year.
There is no word yet about the Vikings allowing fans in US Bank Stadium for games this year but there are ticket buyers despite the uncertainty. The NFL has made its intent clear about having a season but that is subject to debate, with or without spectators.
Nowakowski said prior to March there was an increase in interest in Gophers football tickets. “Before COVID there definitely was some buzz after the (successful) season and the (2020) recruiting class,” Nowakowski said.
Condolences to the family and many friends of Lou Holtz whose wife Beth passed away last week after a long battle with cancer. The legendary Holtz’s coaching stops included the Golden Gophers where he and Beth once were Edina residents.