Minnesota’s Facilities Plan Set Up for Failure

July 10, 2013
Minnesota’s Facilities Plan Set Up for Failure

This afternoon at a University of Minnesota Board of Regents meeting, athletic director Norwood Teague discussed “Phase One” of his department’s master facilities plan.

If the goals Mr. Teague stated are accomplished, he should be praised and his compensation should be tripled. However, it’s not realistic to believe they will be.

An increasingly pressing need is a basketball practice facility. The smart move, in our opinion, would be to push for the allocation of current revenue streams (i.e., media contracts) to fund a practice facility project. This course of action may prove to be inevitable, but at a minimum a long delay in getting construction started due to an insistence that money be fully privately funded will continue to adversely affect the program.

On the one hand, we applaud Teague’s willingness to be bold in reaching for the sky. Unfortunately it just seems his goals are teetering on the edge of when consideration of a mental health hold is warranted.

It’s not that we don’t believe the vision can’t be sold – it’s that we don’t believe it can be sold to the tune of $190 million in private funding and be completed in 6 to 8 years (and that’s just the first phase – no word on cost estimates for the next phase(s)).

If an allocation of existing revenues or long-term debt is issued with a “plan” to pay back with future fundraising efforts, you’ve got a chance to put some money into facilities. But unless someone has $150MM+ they want to hand over to Gopher athletics, it’s incredibly difficult to imagine anywhere near $190 million in private funding.

Some additional observations and comments:

  • In October 2012, the U said that final plan documents were expected to be completed by early spring. That later was pushed back a couple of times until today’s first meaningful update. 
  • A few months ago Teague indicated that the total cost of the project could be in the range of $80 to $125 million. Today the cost of Phase One was estimated at $190 million. 
  • Teague said today that a “fundraising feasibility study” would need to be performed.
  • In response to a question from a member of the Board, Teague didn’t appear to have any priority in mind as far as the different buildings that make up the project.

There were a few “concept images” that were shared, but they appear to be done at a very high level. The U was quick to point out they were “not renderings or proposed designs”. Even the basketball facility image doesn’t jibe with the overhead athletic campus image or Teague’s comment that the gyms would be a court-and-a half in size.

Perhaps there has been a lot more accomplished behind the scenes. From a limited outside view, however, it looks like a high-level plan has been completed without much of an undertaking of the important steps. Those steps would include considering the feasibility of such high levels of fundraising and prioritizing projects.

From a logistical perspective, Teague did indicate that the space identified for the basketball facility lends itself to being an early-construction site candidate.

Teague made an excellent hire in Richard Pitino. We believe the young coach will do well at Minnesota and he will be able to sell the program effectively.

A wise marketing move (again, the U didn’t seem far along in figuring out how they’d market this plan) might be to push the basketball program to get things kicked off. With a new coach (and we believe a very good one at that) who has begun to inject energy into the program and a reasonable argument that a new facility is more of a need than a desire, the time is right.

It’s probably never “the right time” to pitch a request of $190 million. However, if the facilities project begins with a basketball facility that impresses and the team impresses on the court, a significant elevation in donor interest could be realized.

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