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Value of a new football stadium transcends Xs and Os

By Rick Moore

From M, fall 2007

During the fall months over the years, I've been both heartened and taken aback by this recurring Saturday sight: waves of U students in gold, season-ticket-holder T-shirts all walking toward the Gopher football game. Heading to the Metrodome, and heading away from campus. College life is largely shaped by students' activities and memories on campus, and a Big Ten football game--a centerpiece of campus life--should not be given away to a nearby professional venue. At stake are the associations with and memories of this university in perhaps its time of greatest change and improvement. Games on campus once included the sky overhead, the sharp scents of autumn, and the Marching Band playing The Rouser as it paraded down University Avenue toward the stadium. You can't get those things--as much a part of the game as yards rushed and touchdowns scored--in the stale air of the Metrodome, amidst its sea of blue plastic seats under a dull gray roof. Fortunately, in 2009 the Twin Cities campus will be home to a new landmark: an open-air football stadium in the burgeoning Gateway District at the east edge of campus. But a number people--including readers of our publication--have brought up an important question: Is this new stadium absolutely crucial in helping the U become one of the top three public research universities in the world? Probably not in any quantifiable sense. But it will play an important part in helping us get there. Because achieving this kind of standing depends not just on great discoveries, grant money totals, or the number of faculty in the National Academy of Sciences. When the U reaches its goal, it will be because it is the recipient of a huge accumulation of goodwill and enthusiasm from the people who believe in this place.

Fundraising on pace

So far, approximately $60 million of the $86.5 million needed for the stadium has been raised from individuals and corporations, and a team of volunteer fundraisers was recently organized to inspire more gifts. "Gopher fans have shown tremendous dedication through their gifts of time and money," says Athletics Director Joel Maturi. "They're playing a lead role in creating one of the finest collegiate football facilities in the nation."

Sports are often strongly connected to the image people have of the University of Minnesota. Though we may not always like it, fans and even casual observers tend to talk more about Tim Brewster than they do about the latest work of our Regents Professors. Having memorable experiences at a state-of-the-art stadium may translate into more support for the U in general, and may increase contributions to scholarships and other academic endeavors. And the stadium will be more than just a site for football games. It will serve as the new home for the U's Marching Band, the "Pride of Minnesota." It will be a place where alumni gather, relive memories, and notice the changes taking place on campus, like the developing biomedical sciences corridor just west of the stadium. It will also be a place where visitors will discover the splendors of the U for the first time; roughly half of the Minnesotans who have contact with the U each year make that connection through arts or athletic events. "I think it's going to be a great state gathering place," President Bob Bruininks said at the stadium groundbreaking. It's not just about six or seven football games a year. Yes, TCF Bank Stadium will be a place where students rally and alumni reminisce while a new generation of Gopher football players makes history. But it will also show the U's dedication to delivering a comprehensive student experience and to providing a place that the people of Minnesota can call their own.
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