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Fleck: NIL Can Be Game-Changer for U

October 05, 2021 - (0) comments


The NCAA approved a policy last summer allowing current and incoming college athletes the opportunity to benefit from their names, images and likenesses. Already there are scattered reports from around the country of both large and minimal amounts of money being provided to student-athletes.

Research by Sports Headliners doesn’t substantiate a lot of activity benefiting University of Minnesota athletes. The school athletic department can help educate but not arrange potential NIL opportunities for its athletes. There doesn’t appear to be much response so far from the outside community including the 16 Fortune 500 companies based in the state of Minnesota.

There certainly is potential to create a reputation that the U is a desirable NIL destination for student-athletes. The Minneapolis-St. Paul area has long been known for its successful businesses of all sizes. Many of those businesses are owned or have staff with passion for Gophers athletics.

NIL is not to be used for “under the table” payments by boosters to reward athletes for performance, or as a recruiting inducement. NIL is also not a pay-for-play tool in the sense that athletes receive a salary from their schools, making them employees. However, word is getting out about schools where athletes are profiting.

For example, at Miami (Florida) a gym owner proposed an NIL deal rewarding everyone on the Hurricanes football team with $500 per month. A University of Michigan retailer reportedly is selling football jerseys with the names of players on the back and more than $10 per shirt goes to the athlete. Paige Bueckers, the former Hopkins superstar who was named 2021 college basketball Player of the Year in her freshman season at Connecticut, is rumored to be lining up more than $500,000 in NIL money. Gable Steveson, the Gopher and gold medal winning Olympic wrestler, is still competing for the U but has (presumably) a lucrative deal with pro wrestling’s WWE.

College athletes are allowed NIL advisors to find deals such as making personal appearances, doing TV commercials or utilizing their social media platforms. Those advisors can’t be coaches from the athletes’ schools, but leaders at the U certainly recognize the potential in this market place given the vitality of the business community.

“…We have a very, very unique location of where we are, and we need to be able to use that, and we need our community to want to use that,” Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck said. “Use our student athletes and really take this program to a different level, and I think we’re very, very capable of doing that.”

P.J. Fleck

Fleck considers NIL to be another major change benefitting athletes, along with things like player safety and the transfer portal. He knows NIL could be a huge catalyst for recruiting, perhaps annually boosting the Gophers into the company of recruiting classes that rank among the top 20 in the nation—a change resulting in rosters with plenty of four-star players, and perhaps a few five-stars.

Fleck is clearly excited about NIL and how it can benefit Gopher football. “I think there is great potential here for what we can become. …We just have to be incredibly creative. We have to be able to use it like everyone else. To be able to use it (as) part of recruiting student athletes to come here.

“Again, not setting those things up, but when you look at where you are and where you’re located, what resources we have around here, this can be game-changing for the University of Minnesota. It can be game-changing for where we are going in the future.”

Notes: Vikes Miss on Second Half Points

The Minnesota Vikings’ offense has no second half touchdowns in the last three games (two losses). After Sunday’s home loss to the Seattle Seahawks, head coach Mike Zimmer surprisingly said on KFAN radio he hadn’t thought about the scoring drought in the last two periods. “I’ll have to look at what we’re doing offensively at halftime,” he said.

The offense produced a crisp opening game touchdown drive in the 14-7 loss to the Cleveland Browns Sunday. Former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber, also talking on the KFAN post game show, said the early game plans of rookie offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak impress but production stalls out.

“But as the game goes on, and you have to start calling plays based on game situations, and it seems like we’re just not as creative,” Leber said. “We’re not ahead of it where we should be, where we are in the early parts of the game. …”

Kirk Cousins

Leber believes blitzes and line twists by the Browns frustrated Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and his linemen. “We’ve seen Kirk where he gets in these games and he feels the pressure before it’s really there, and I think that really had an effect on him late in the game,” Leber said.

The one-win Vikings have lost three games by a total of 11 points. That’s part of why Zimmer keeps insisting he has a “good team” despite the record, while anticipating results will turn around as the season progresses.

Viking wide receiver Justin Jefferson had six receptions for 84 yards and the team’s lone touchdown Sunday.  He has 114 receptions for 1,738 yards and 10 touchdowns in 20 career games. He and Odell Beckham Jr. and A.J. Green are the only NFL players in league history with at least 100 receptions, 1,500 receiving yards and 10 touchdown catches in their first 20 games.

Vikings veteran linebacker Anthony Barr (knee injury) has yet to play in the first four games but Zimmer is optimistic about a return to the field Sunday against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium. “I think he’ll play this week,” Zimmer said at his news conference yesterday.

The experience of the 29-year-old allows the Vikings to do things a younger player can’t, the coach said.

Zimmer also said the coaches are talking about how to keep 33-year-old defensive end Everson Griffen fresh for the balance of the season. He’s been effective in rushing the opposing quarterback, with two sacks in three games this season.

Single game tickets remain for the Minnesota Wild home opener against the Winnipeg Jets October 19. A promotional email Monday used this subject line: “Don’t Miss (Kirill) Kaprizov Opening Night.”

Starters for the Minnesota Timberwolves in their opening preseason game last night: center Karl-Anthony Towns, forward Jaden McDaniels, guards Josh Okogie, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell. Impressions: a skilled group capable of explosive offense and more than average defense, but not an adequate rebounding unit. Note to head coach Chris Finch: start Jarred Vanderbilt in place of McDaniels to improve the offensive and defensive rebounding.

Towns needs to be an alpha defender and rebounder all season. He also must cruise through a season without being sidelined with injuries (briefly missed time during the game last night).

The 20-year-old Edwards looks taller and stronger than during his rookie season last winter. Everyone knows about his offense but he’s going to be elite defensively. He had two blocks and two steals in his team’s 117-114 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.


Twins Not Parting Ways with Rocco

October 03, 2021 - (0) comments


The Minnesota Twins end their regular season today with a series finale in Kansas City against the Royals. This could be the most disappointing year in franchise history dating back to 1961. Before the season started internal and external expectations were that the club would contend for an American League championship, not finish 17 or 18 games under .500.

Media speculation has manager Rocco Baldelli on the “hot seat.” His name is on the list of managers that could be fired soon but team president Dave St. Peter told Sports Headliners it’s not going to happen.

“We believe in Rocco,” St. Peter said. “We think he’s part of the solution. He’s certainly not the problem in our mind.”

Baldelli had no managerial experience when he took over the Twins for the 2019 season. His first club won the AL Central with a 101-61 record, the second most in franchise history. During a pandemic shortened 2020, the Twins were 36-24 and again led the division standings. This year’s team has underwhelmed with inconsistent pitching and injuries to key positional players.

St. Peter believes Baldelli, 40, is a better manager today because of what he has experienced the last three seasons. “Think about what he’s faced as a manager. He’s had 100 win teams. He’s had to deal with a world-wide pandemic. He’s had to deal with social justice issues. He’s had to deal with the loss of a bench coach (the late Mike Bell). He’s dealt with probably every injury you could ever imagine from all of his star players.

“And now he’s dealt with a really challenging season. A season where we’ve failed to meet expectations. Those things and 100 other things are going to help shape you as a leader, and Rocco Baldelli is still on the opening chapters of his managerial career. So there is no doubt in my mind his best managing is ahead of him.”

St. Peter doesn’t expect any major changes in the baseball front office. That includes the return of top executives Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. “Yeah, 100 percent (both return). I expect both of them to be part of our franchise for a long, long time.”

Dave St. Peter (photo courtesy of Minnesota Twins)

The team president believes 2022 will be a “retool,” not a rebuild for the club. Much of the focus, of course, will be improving the pitching staff. He’s encouraged by the work of the bullpen over the last two months, labeling it as one of the best in MLB during that period. The starting staff will receive particular offseason scrutiny with the club looking for pitching help within the organization and outside of it through potential trades and free agent signings.

St. Peter predicted predicts young starters from within the organization are likely to join the Twins as the 2022 season develops. “That really excites me because that’s really the ticket to sustained success,” he said.

Worth Noting

The Golden Gophers earned some redemption yesterday with a 20-13 win over Purdue and moved their season record to 3-2. Minnesota players and coaches had spent last week trying to explain their stunning 14-10 loss to lowly Bowling Green at home September 25. Gopher defensive end Boye Mafe said this before going to Purdue: “…If we want to do what we want to do with the season, we have to really show up and really actually execute.”

The offense, led by quarterback Tanner Morgan, was much better yesterday than the week before. Morgan was the target of much criticism passing for 59 yards on five of 13 completions against BG. “Being the quarterback of the Minnesota Golden Gophers is something that I truly cherish, but at the end of the day that’s not my identity. My identity is who I am, as a child of God, and when you remember that I think it makes things a lot easier personally. But people have a right to be angry. That’s part of college football. …”

True freshman Joe Alt, from Totino-Grace and North Oaks, was on the field at left tackle for Notre Dame yesterday during the home loss to Cincinnati.

Short list: Twins slugger Miguel Sano has 30 home runs this season and he hit 34 in 2019. He is one of only seven Twins ever to hit 30 or more in multiple seasons, joining Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison, Tom Brunansky, Brian Dozier, Gary Gaetti and Justin Morneau.

Byron Buxton has stolen 71 bases in 81 career attempts, a percentage of .876. That’s second best in MLB history (minimum 80 attempts). Alexi Casilla, with the Twins and Baltimore Orioles, is the leader with a percentage of .879.

It was 40 years ago last Thursday (September 30, 1981) the Twins played their final game at Met Stadium, moving into the Metrodome in 1982.

Minnesota native and baseball hall of famer Dave Winfield is 70 today.

A Minnesota Timberwolves source said former coach Ryan Saunders hasn’t decided on his next career opportunity. He and wife Hayley have two children under three and continue to live in the Minneapolis area.

“The Huddle” with Mike Max and Pete Najarian debuts next Sunday from 10 a.m. to noon on WCCO Radio. The show fills the time slot of “The Sports Huddle” show that hasn’t aired for about 18 months.

As of late last week, the Minnesota Wild had sold more than 1,200 Winter Classic jerseys since announcing them about a month ago. The jerseys honor the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the 2022 Winter Classic that will be at Target Field.

Bally Sports North will televise the Timberwolves preseason game against the New Orleans Pelicans Monday night from Target Center, with Bally Sports using its app to stream the Wild’s preseason game against the Colorado Avalanche from Xcel Energy Center on the same evening.

Kevin Harlan, the former radio voice of the Timberwolves, does the play-by-play for CBS on its TV coverage of today’s Minnesota Vikings-Cleveland Browns game.

Zero. In Minnesota’s win last Sunday the Viking defense held the Seattle Seahawks scoreless in the second half for the first time since the Tampa Bay Bucs did so in November of 2016.

Rookie left tackle Christian Darrisaw, who has yet to play for the 1-2 Vikings, perhaps could make his debut today if the game is one-sided. He was a full participant in practice last week after being sidelined with a groin issue.

The United States Hockey League had a record 375 NHL scouts and D-1 coaches at its recent Fall Classic Showcase held near Pittsburgh. Representatives of the Minnesota Wild, Golden Gophers, St. Thomas, and other Minnesota schools were in attendance. The USHL’s new president and commissioner is St. Paul native Billy Robertson.

Chris Meidt, president and CEO of Minnesota-based North Risk Partners, is the former quarterbacks coach of the Washington Redskins and ex-head coach at St. Olaf. As a Minneota High School quarterback in the 1980s he threw over 100 career touchdown passes for a then national prep record and was featured in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd.”

A pair of senior MIAC quarterbacks, Bethel’s Jaran Roste, and Chris Backes from Saint John’s, are semifinalists for the William V. Campbell Trophy. The award recognizes an individual as the best football scholar-athlete in the nation for his combined academic success, football performance, and exemplary leadership.

The program time to honor Minnesota prep football coaching legend Ron Stolski next Saturday has been changed from 4 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. The event will be at the Northern Pacific Center in Brainerd.


Wolves Owners Envision New Arena

September 28, 2021 - (0) comments


Target Center opened in 1990 and although it has since been remodeled, the downtown Minneapolis facility is the oldest home to an NBA team except for iconic Madison Square Garden in New York where the Knicks play. Although nothing is imminent, Minnesota Timberwolves owners Glen Taylor and Marc Lore foresee a new arena eventually being built in Minnesota.

Taylor spoke to the media yesterday at a news conference introducing limited partners Lore and Alex Rodriguez, the baseball great turned businessman. Lore is a visionary in business endeavors, even talking about building a utopian city using what is termed reformed capitalism. He and Rodriguez will have controlling interest in the Timberwolves and Minnesota Lynx franchises in a couple of years.

The two new owners talked extensively yesterday about creating a vision for the franchises with strategies that will create an exemplary organizational culture and lead to success on the court. With ultra sophisticated and technology friendly arenas becoming an NBA trademark, it wasn’t surprising to hear the e-commerce savvy Lore talking about one day replacing city-owned Target Center with a state-of-the-art facility that would be a much better business model for him and his partner.

Taylor said he is on board for a new arena some day and understands the necessity. “That won’t be easy,” he told Sports Headliners. “I hope it can happen. It better happen.”

Taylor said he is absolutely sure the Timberwolves will remain in Minnesota long-term, indicating the league is committed to the marketplace. And Rodriguez said he and his partner are “bullish” on Minnesota, with no plans to relocate the franchises.

Asked when he sees himself talking to city officials about Target Center, Lore said, “We’re a long ways off before we start thinking about something like that.”

Glen Taylor

Taylor, the Mankato-based billionaire, has controlled the Timberwolves since 1994. During much of that period the team has been known more for missing the playoffs than being a force in the NBA. That needs to change to make the likelihood of support for a new building more realistic.

“We have to win,” Taylor said. “That builds the arena. It’s pretty simple.”

Lore and Rodriguez reportedly will pay $1.5 billion to own the franchises. Taylor said others would have paid more but he was attracted to the two men. As Taylor reviewed potential owners, he stressed the fit had to be right because he has seen takeovers of other NBA franchises fail with the wrong people in charge.

Taylor shared that instead of being so focused on money, Lore and Rodriguez showed a lot of interest in the people and culture with the Timberwolves and Lynx. “They’re smart. They’re really nice people and I think they care about the employees,” Taylor said.

Taylor believes his new partners are also committed to the product fans will see at Target Center. “What I found out is they want to win, and I love that,” he said.

Worth Noting

More from Taylor on Lore and Rodriguez: “I can tell you these two guys aren’t bashful.”

Rodriguez on interaction with Wolves players: “If we have to rely on my pep talks, we’re not going to win a lot of games.”

Rookie Joe Ryan, 2-1 with a 2:45 ERA, is scheduled to start the Minnesota Twins’ final home regular season game Thursday night against the Detroit Tigers. With the starting staff in flux, he could be the team’s opening day pitcher in 2022.

Viking owners Zygi and Mark Wilf were in the Vikings’ locker room following Sunday’s timely win over the Seattle Seahawks and heard coach Mike Zimmer say if the players do the important things they can “win a lot of games.”

At Zimmer’s post-game news conference he was irritated with a session ending question from Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press, who asked how it felt to “finally get a win over Seattle and (quarterback) Russell Wilson.” Here is how Zimmer replied about ending the seven-game losing streak:

“It’s a win. You always bring up those kind of things, don’t you? And you always ask questions like, well, you haven’t beat these guys in 17 years so what do you think about this time? I mean, just ask the question.”

The often maligned Viking offensive line is receiving praise for its performance in the win over the Seahawks, although Seattle was missing its top pass rushers.

The Golden Gophers’ stunning loss to Bowling Green last Saturday is now a major impediment to a winning season. The Falcons, about a 31 point underdog going into the game at Huntington Bank Stadium, were expected to be the worst team on Minnesota’s 12-game schedule. The nonconference loss left the Gophers at 2-2 for the season, instead of 3-1 if they had won. With eight Big Ten games remaining, Minnesota will have to win five times just to finish with a 7-5 overall record. In the prior 10 years, the Gophers have only three times finished with a winning Big Ten record.

The Gophers’ Tanner Morgan has now been outplayed by two quarterbacks from the Mid-American Conference. Bowling Green’s Mike McDonald made better throws in Saturday’s 14-10 win. Two weeks prior Miami (Ohio) quarterback Brett Gabbert threw for 201 yards, while Morgan had 112 in Minnesota’s 31-26 win.

It will be a surprise if Morgan, a four-season starter, doesn’t keep his job for Saturday’s upcoming game at Purdue. However, if the offense is sluggish he might get replaced during the game by Zach Annexstad.

It’s not an excuse for Minnesota’s lack of offensive preparation and execution against the Falcons, but it’s a pattern of Gopher coach P.J. Fleck to use a “vanilla offense” early in the season against nonconference teams. This time it backfired and a successful season is in jeopardy and perhaps the future of offensive coordinator Mike Sanford.

Congratulations to Ed Cohen, a member of the gameday Gophers football statistics crew for 66 seasons, who will celebrate his 90th birthday October 20.

Eric Nelson, Wally Langfellow and former Gophers football player Lee Hutton have a new show airing from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursdays on AM-1440 KYCR. The “Gopher Gold Rush” program includes guests talking about University of Minnesota football.


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