What the Gophers athletics department lacks in top-end success, it makes up for in depth.
In the April 19 Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup Division I standings, the University of Minnesota ranked ninth out of the 346 Division-I programs in the NCAA.
The Directors’ Cup is run by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and is a ranking system that awards points evenly among an institution’s sports for performance. The more sports a school has, the higher the potential score.
However, NACDA only includes 20 sports in its rankings to mitigate unfairness with programs like Ohio State, which has 37 sports.
With the recent struggles of the football team and men’s basketball (and until this year, men’s hockey), the Gophers other sports buoyed the department in this year’s rankings.
The Big Ten had five schools represented in the top-10 and Minnesota ranked fourth in the conference behind Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin.
Minnesota’s 25 varsity sports are tied for fourth in the Big Ten.
Minnesota’s athletics budget is about $79 million, which pales in comparison to Ohio State’s $131 million budget, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
“Obviously money helps,” Minnesota’s athletics director Joel Maturi said. “But I don’t think money guarantees greater success.”
While the most visible sports tend to bring in more revenue, Maturi said the success of Olympic sports (like wrestling and track and field) doesn’t hinder sports like men’s basketball and football.
However, he said he’s aware most people would rather have the success in those areas.
“I know some people feel that they would trade where we rank and how we are for a few more football wins,” he said. “But I think we need to be proud of our overall athletic accomplishments.”
Ben Williams, a former Gophers and Vikings defensive end, who has been critical of the department in the past agreed. He was part of the “Save Gopher Football” movement that asked Maturi to remove himself from the hiring process that eventually netted Kill.
“I think, obviously if anyone is a true supporter of the University of Minnesota’s athletics in general, that’s something to be proud of,” Williams said.
“As we all know, the name of the game is revenue sports,” he added. “We’ve just got to do some things to right the ship in the programs that are supposed to carry a university.”
The Gophers received many Directors’ Cup points for sports like men’s and women’s swimming and track and field, but the bulk of the points came from the women’s hockey national championship, wrestling’s second-place national finish and the men’s hockey trip to the Frozen Four.
Without many points from football and men’s basketball, Maturi said it’s still impressive to be ranked in the top-20 out of the 346 Division I schools.
“That means we’re spending our dollars pretty frugally and that we’re having success with the programs that we’ve had,” Maturi said.
Minnesota has been ranked in the top-15 in the Directors’ Cup winter rankings annually since Maturi’s arrival in 2002. NACDA will release the final 2011-12 winter standings April 26.
“I think that says something good about the commitment we’ve made,” Maturi said.
With gymnastics being the only winter sport left to award points in and Minnesota’s men’s team finishing eighth at the NCAA championships, it is unlikely the Gophers will fall out of the top-15 when the final winter standings are released this week.
“Anything we can do as coaches at the University of Minnesota to send Joel [Maturi] out on a high note is something we all [want],” men’s gymnastics coach Mike Burns said after his team’s weekend performance.
-Megan Ryan contributed to this report.