By: Joshua Chamberlain
Posted: January 14, 2012
The Minnesota Golden Gopher basketball team won at Indiana on Thursday night. #8 Indiana. Like, #8 in the country. This came after a week in which Tubby Smith, the Minnesota coach, was under fire for his team’s terrible play. It was a week when people openly discussed whether Tubby should be fired (more on that later), people really started noticing that attendance numbers for home games dwindled, and the Gopher basketball team seemed to be at a point as low as any since Tubby arrived.
Then, a miracle. Minnesota, on a 10-game Big Ten Conference losing streak, went into Indiana’s gym and beat a top-10 team. Minnesota hadn’t won on the road against a top-10 team in OVER 30 YEARS! It was a great moment that Gopher fans are no doubt still celebrating. It also may have staved off Tubby’s firing for a little while.
I, myself, am still wondering how this victory took place. The players didn’t change, and Tubby is still the same coach. Clearly, there was something at work behind the scenes. Perhaps it was retribution for Indiana fans storming the court in 2010 after beating an unranked, middle-of-the-Big-Ten-Pack Gopher team.
The idea of karma or, in a negative sense, a “cosmic payback” has been rattling around in my head since Christmas, when I received an email from my sister telling me that having to put together toys containing 1,000 pieces for my own kids was proof positive that the world had a way of getting back at people. She, herself, was lamenting the fact that she had to put together a bike for her daughter. Basically, there was something bigger at play that ensured that we would endure the same Christmas-eve backaches and blisters we put our parents through.
So, just what did the Gophers do to deserve their fate? Minnesota’s last Big Ten football championship was 1967. Murray Warmath, the coach of the Gophers at the time, must have done something to piss off some cosmic being. We’re at 45 years (and counting), and that next championship does not appear to be coming next year. For 45 years of futility, I’m guessing Warmath did something pretty bad. The Big Ten Football Gods do NOT like it when people piss in their corn flakes, and the results are there to prove it.
At least with Gopher basketball the issues are clear to see. The last Big Ten Championship was won in 1997, though that title (along with the subsequent Final Four appearance) has since been vacated because coach Clem Haskins covered up an essay-writing scandal involving the players and an academic aid. Thanks, Clem. 15 years and counting. This year is not over, of course, but the 1-4 start to the Big Ten season does not have me brimming with confidence.
Even more impressive than the individual failures associated with the football and basketball teams, however, is the overall cloud hanging over the entire athletics program, a cloud shaped remarkably like athletic director Joel Maturi. In fact, one of the main reasons people hesitated to say Tubby should be fired after the horrendous start to the Big Ten season was that Maturi would then be in charge of making the next hire. Talk about a spirit-crushing blow. A guy can’t be fired because the man in charge of hiring his replacement will, in the eyes of many, hire someone even worse? That is a sad state of affairs, my friends.
Unfortunately, this all leads to two unanswerable questions:
1. What happened that was so wrong? Was it something we said, or was it something we did? Surely, it has nothing to do with poor coaching, a distinct talent gap exacerbated by poor recruiting, historically bad facilities, premature athlete transfers, an inability to retain quality assistant coaches, or a combination of those factors. No, the Gopher futility and subsequent fan apathy cannot be explained away like that.
2. How can we get out of the funk? The answer I keep hearing is recruit better, coach better, build better facilities, retain athletes for their entire period of eligibility, and pay assistant coaches competitive salaries. Nonsense! We need to find the person who said the terrible word or committed the awful deed and make him pay for what he has done. These are desperate times, and we need to exact desperate measures.
Frankly, I don’t know why people cling to such ridiculous explanations and solutions. Any rational onlooker can determine that the ongoing revenue-sport futility was caused by some vindictive cosmic payback. It is clear that a sacrifice to the Big Ten Gods must be made. I have a thought on the matter. It involves this guy.