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Did Joel Maturi Sabotage Football and Basketball With Successful Non-Revenue Sports?

There is a very common and oft used argument within Gopher Nation. The thesis goes something like, Joel Maturi's desire to have successful non-revenue programs at the University of Minnesota is in large part the reason basketball and football have been perpetually stuck in mediocrity, or worse. Finishing in the top 20 of the Director's Cup standings

I'm wondering though is this is really a true statement or if it is a specious argument as we grasp for reasons that football and basketball cannot breakout to some level of measurable and sustained success?

There are a number of anecdotal points of argument to support this theory. During the Maturi era we have more conference championships in Women's Soccer (1) than we do in Men's Basketball and Football combined. We can all be proud of our dance team winning seven national championships while our Football team has participated in just six low-level bowl games. The Volleyball team has participated in as many Final Fours as the Men's Basketball team has participated in NCAA Tournament's. As we look to our eastern neighbors, Wisconsin cut it's baseball program and four other minor sports (gymnastics and fencing for men and women) in 1991. Since then they have five Big Ten football titles, five Sweet 16 appearances and one Final Four berth.

It all seems pretty simple right? If we cut a few minor sports that are a drag on the economics of the athletic department, then we'd have a better shot at actual and maybe even sustained success in Football and Men's Basketball. But I wonder if this is actually a true statement. Spending money on the football program hasn't really been an issue. According to this financial data from Forbes we rank in the middle of the Big Ten for football expenses. Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota (4th, 5th, 6th and 7th respectively) are all within about a million dollars of each other in expenditures. Spending money and really football revenues with the new stadium are right in line with where they should be.

In fact if you take a look at what % of football revenue schools are spending back on their football team, Minnesota is kicking back less to the non-revenue sports than other teams in the Big Ten. This is the % of football generated revenue spend on the football team.

  • Penn State - 28.1% (70.2 MM in revenue / 19.8 MM in football expenses)
  • Michigan - 29% (63.2 / 18.3)
  • Ohio State - 49.8% (63.7 / 31.8)
  • Minnesota - 53.9% (32.3 / 17.4)

At Minnesota the football team is spending most of what the football team is bringing in. Looking at it the other way Michigan's non-rev sports are getting 71% of football generated revenue at Minnesota they are getting 46.1%. Joel Maturi is not robbing Jerry Kill's football budget so that he can rack up conference championships in Men's Track and Field. The problem isn't a severe lack of spending because we have to fund other sports, the problem is we are not getting the appropriate bang for our buck.

Wisconsin is a perfect example of what it takes for your major sports to win at the Big Ten and even NCAA level. It is less about money spent and much more about getting the right man to lead the program. Wisconsin isn't making Rose Bowls because they dropped baseball, they are making Rose Bowls because in 1990 they hired the right football coach in Barry Alvarez. Wisconsin has been incredibly successful on the hardwood because Bo Ryan is a very good basketball coach. Look to the south at Iowa. The Hawkeyes have been much more successful than Minnesota on the gridiron because they hired the right guy in Kirk Ferentz. Basketball has not fared nearly as well because they have either not been patient enough or they just haven't found the right guy to lead their program.

Having a successful football program has nothing to do with the success, or lack there of, of the minor sports. Wisconsin has exactly one fewer sport that they support than the Gophers. It is true that they do not have a baseball team, but they do have a men's soccer team (Minnesota does not). On this particular subject I am going to have to agree with Reusse...

The Badgers don't have baseball, but they do have men's rowing and men's soccer. When you cancel out sports at the two schools, the extra sport at Minnesota is men's gymnastics.

If you think dropping men's gymnastics will make it easier for Jerry Kill to compete equally with Wisconsin in football, go for it.

Tubby Smith missing the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season is not because with the women's swimming and diving team won a Big Ten title this year. I do not believe that had that sport been cut a year ago and the money spent this year would have been funneled directly into the men's basketball budget we would have seen any different results on the floor.

I am not looking to defend Joel Maturi or his legacy, he failed at many things during his tenure. His contract extensions to Glen Mason and Dan Monson fewer than 12 months before firing them were idiotic. He compounded that by hiring Tim Brewster who set the football program back further, a colossal failure. Nobody can argue over his decision to hire Tubby Smith, at the time that seemed like a coup and anyone in his shoes would have done the same thing. But his part in the handling of Royce White and Trevor Mbakwe during the 2009-10 season may have cost us a shot at winning in the NCAA Tournament and potentially competing for a Big Ten title this season (my assumption is that Royce would have stayed).

Instead, I think I am defending the non-revenue sports. The revenue programs need to start winning and the new athletic director better be ready to properly equip and support them. But if the football team and the basketball team start to become legitimately competitive in the Big Ten, I do not expect it will be because the non-revenue programs have taken steps backward.

I may be in the minority here and I am wide open to hearing where am I wrong and what I am missing. But I believe the success of the minor sports during the tenure of Joel Maturi should be looked at as a positive, not an excuse for why the revenue programs are failing.