The Big Ten Conference will begin competition with a record 18 schools in 2024. Membership will stretch from coast-to-coast and complete a vision set years ago that former University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler enthusiastically supported, according to Tom Devine.
Devine, a prominent former University regent and tireless volunteer for his alma mater, told Sports Headliners about a meeting long ago in Kaler’s office where then Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany presented his vision for an expanded conference that captured vast TV audiences on the coasts. Kaler was a leader of Big Ten presidents and chancellors, and someone Devine said saw Big Ten expansion as vital to preserving and enhancing the financial strength of athletic departments and the student-athlete experience.
The meeting in Minneapolis, that included Devine and fellow regents Rick Beeson and Dean Johnson, preceded the league’s 2014 expansion from 12 teams to 14 when Maryland and Rutgers joined the Big Ten. Those schools delivered TV markets in Washington D.C., Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and New York. In 2022 the conference added UCLA and USC, and then last week announced the Big Ten will become the largest league in the nation with the addition of two more west coast schools, Oregon and Washington.
Kaler, who during his era as U president from 2011-2019 served awhile as chair of the Big Ten Council of presidents and chancellors, was highly interested in athletics. Devine said his friend watched college football, including the Gophers on Saturdays, and the Vikings on Sundays. “Eric is a huge sports nut,” Devine said. That interest and his other skillsets and experiences helped make Kaler influential with Big Ten decision makers at other schools and a key ally of Delany.
The league has leveraged its longtime prestige for excellence in academics and athletics with access to most of the largest TV markets in the country to deliver record TV revenues for college sports. In the near future Big Ten athletic departments may receive $100 million or more annually from TV revenue including the Big Ten Network.
The league has been a leader for years in TV revenue and that source of income has been used by conference schools to help finance facilities. Devine said TV revenue was used as “collateral” for a bond the U secured to help build the $166 million Athletes Village.
The U athletic department is financially self-supporting but most of the 21 sports don’t operate in the black. That’s why TV revenues, mostly from football and men’s basketball, along with monies from gate receipts, sponsorships, licensing and other sources of income are so vital to keep the Gophers and other Big Ten schools at a more than competitive place in intercollegiate athletics.
Devine said Kaler believed in the “best outcomes” for student-athletes. At Minnesota graduation rates, GPAs and job placement have increased significantly in the last 10 years. That was part of Delany and Kaler’s vision for athletics, along with adding Big Ten schools that fit the conference model of success in academics, research and sports while being able to expand the league footprint like no other conference in the country.
In voting by his NFL peers Vikings’ wide receiver Justin Jefferson is the No. 2 player in the league. Other Vikings who are top 100 vote getters are safety Harrison Smith, No. 97, and quarterback Kirk Cousins, No. 42.
The Vikings are scheduled to practice from 7:30 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. tonight (August 8) at TCO Stadium in preparation for their preseason opener at the Seahawks Thursday evening. Kickoff is at 9 p.m. with TV coverage from Fox 9 and the NFL Network.
After the Vikings released their unofficial depth chart yesterday it looks like second-year pro Akayleb Evans is winning the competition to start at cornerback opposite Byron Murphy. The depth chart was for a 3-4 base defense and “21 personnel” on offense meaning a running back, fullback, one tight end and two receivers. The defense consists of two defensive ends, a nose tackle, two outside linebackers, two inside linebackers and four players in the secondary.
The football Gophers have one of the most difficult schedules in the country this year and could find themselves in multiple tight games. They will face those clutch moments with a new field goal kicker, probably 2022 kickoff specialist Dragan Kesich. The 6-4, 235-pound Wisconsin native has a booming leg and two more seasons of eligibility, but he lacks field goal and extra point experience having attempted one FG in his Gopher career.
Ryan Burns from 247Sports and GopherIllustrated pointed out in a recent story the Gophers need to improve in special teams. Examples cited include no kick returns for scores since 2017 and no punt returns for touchdowns since 2018. “Minnesota hasn’t blocked a PAT since November of 2017, hasn’t blocked a field goal since November of 2020, and they’ve blocked one punt in the six years of (the) P.J. Fleck era,” Burns wrote.
Dinkytown, where youth have caused security problems earlier this year, will become a focus August 31 when the Gophers open their season at home. Word is parents of potential troublemakers are “policing” Dinkytown to make it safer.
Warning: coming off the hottest month in the earth’s history in July, authorities supervising outdoor activities presumably are monitoring heat and air quality to avoid potential health issues and even tragedies. It was 22 years ago this month Vikings’ offensive tackle Korey Stringer died after complications from heat stroke.
Ken Mauer Jr., the St. Paul native and former veteran NBA referee, is still involved with litigation against the league. It’s been almost two years since Mauer sued the NBA because the league refused to let him work after he declined to follow protocol on COVID vaccination.
If not for financial assistance from friends and family, Mauer wouldn’t be able to continue the litigation. “It’s all about a waiting game and wait you out, and trying to break you,” Mauer told Sports Headliners. “That’s all they’re doing. Delaying at every possible turn that they can.”
Mauer was an NBA official for 37 years. He built up a sizeable pension but that, too, has become a point of litigation. “Now they refuse to give me my pension,” he said.
Ultimate compliment: Justin Morneau, introducing Joe Mauer last Saturday night at Target Field as part of Mauer’s induction into the Twins Hall of Fame, recalled the two visited Como Zoo earlier this year where a worker told Mauer his parents named him Joe because they were such admirers of the St. Paul baseball legend.
Twins catcher Ryan Jeffers, with a .230 lifetime average, is a star at the plate in his last 30 games hitting .320 with six home runs and 16 RBI. The 26-year-old, who is being used part time, homered last night, and drove in three runs in Minnesota’s 9-3 win over the Tigers in Detroit.
Marshall Tanick, the Minneapolis-based attorney with decades of experience in employment law, wrote an opinion piece in the Duluth News Tribune about former University of Minnesota volleyball coach Stephanie Schleuder who died in June. Schleuder is praised for not only being a volleyball pioneer but important advocate for the rights of employees in the workplace, especially women. https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/opinion/columns/local-view-umds-schleuder-a-trailblazer-on-volleyball-court-and-court-of-law
The Dutch Course at Cragun’s Resort will host the PGA Canada CRMC Championship August 31-September 3. The course is one of two at the popular Brainerd area resort renovated by Minnesota golf legend Tom Lehman.