With a new athletics director, a fresh head coach and a beautiful stadium, Minnesotans are counting on Gophers football to turn around soon. However, there is another necessary ingredient: a culture of college football infatuation. The Gophers are at a disadvantage compared to other Big Ten schools, most of which have stronger fan support for college football.
On a trip to Iowa University last fall, I witnessed this culture. Even after being out late the night before, students awoke earlier for tailgating than they did for class. During the game, students overflowed from the stadium and the streets into the bars, which were packed tight as a rock concert and not any less exciting.
This is what happens from Madison to Ann Arbor and most of the Big Ten; the entire town stands idly as the football game is the event of the weekend. We lack that atmosphere here and coach Jerry Kill recognizes it. "Home games at TCF Bank Stadium need to become the most important thing in the state of Minnesota on Saturdays," he said in a speech last week.
Strict city ordinances prevent alcohol consumption in private parking lots with few exceptions. Every parking lot for miles around TCF Bank Stadium ought to have tailgating festivities. Tailgating is often the primary reason that casual fans decide to attend a game.
The University is the only school in the Big Ten that has a professional football team in the same city. Northwestern, located in a suburb of Chicago, is the only other school that comes close. Nine of the 12 cities in the Big Ten don’t have any professional sports teams, but the Gophers have to compete with five between the Twin Cities.
Being in one of the largest cities of the Big Ten makes it difficult for the University to cultivate the same college-centric atmosphere that attracts prospective players, students and fans in the community. If the Gophers are to be competitive and win more games, they need this culture.