This week marks the 99th year the University of Minnesota has celebrated homecoming on campus.
And this Saturday marks the fourth year the Gophers will play a homecoming game at TCF Bank Stadium.
Homecoming traditions on campus have long included a campus football game. For many years, though, that tradition did not exist.
That all changed when Tom Moe joined the athletics department in 1999.
Moe helped introduce the idea of building a football stadium on campus. He spoke at cities around the state and talked to faculty and staff members at the University, helping former head coach Glen Mason promote the idea.
Moe put his legal career on hold to become interim men’s AD. He didn’t know much about his role or how long he would be AD.
One thing Moe did know, though, was how to take action about something he cared about.
In his relatively short career at Minnesota, Moe led some of the biggest changes to the athletics department. He worked to increase sources of revenue and recruiting, and he pushed the idea of merging the men’s and women’s athletics departments.
A relentless approach
Moe said within his first week as AD, he began questioning how the department raised money. He was surprised to learn that no one was in charge of funding.
Near the turn of the century, only a few athletics departments across the country were able to turn a profit, Moe said, and the ones that did were among the most successful programs on the field.
Moe said there was an “arms race” among Big Ten schools to improve, enhance and expand school facilities and revenue sources.
Suites were being added to football stadiums. New facilities were being built to draw new recruits. Television deals were being struck. Minnesota was even planning to cut three athletics programs to reduce costs.
Moe said the best source of revenue at the time was increased football revenue. Minnesota lacked a “game day” weekend atmosphere on campus because the team played roughly three miles away at the Metrodome.
Attendance at Metrodome games was roughly 40,000 to 60,000 fans each game. The results on the field were mixed, and there were times the team was put second behind the Minnesota Twins and the Minnesota Vikings, who also played there.
“We were visitors,” Mason said. He said there were times when he couldn’t show a recruit the football field at the Metrodome because it was being used for another event, like monster truck shows.
That inability often led to potential athletes to head to other schools like Iowa and Wisconsin.
Mason said he wanted to discuss the idea of having a stadium on campus. He was hesitant to speak out, though, because he feared any comment would be used against him.
According to former Minnesota AD Mark Dienhart, Mason was able to publicly express his desire for a campus football stadium, though, because he experienced some success on the field. Mason led the Gophers to eight-win seasons in 1999 and 2002.
Mason and Moe started to spread word about the possibility of a stadium.
“Tom was relentless in his approach,” Mason said. “Everyone wanted to tell him why it wouldn’t work.”
Dienhart said Moe saw that the football program lacked the experience and recruiting to be competitive in the Big Ten, and because he was able to speak frankly, he did so.
“It was the courageous and right thing to do,” Dienhart said.
Moe said he spent two-and-a-half years on a mission “he hadn’t anticipated,” traveling around the state to speak about the stadium with anyone who would listen.
He found there was support for a stadium on campus, but many people didn’t want to use public funds to build one.
A dream becomes reality
In 2002, the Legislature set aside $500,000 for a design study and operating agreement between the Vikings and the University at a stadium on campus.
The idea fizzled out after multiple disagreements from both sides.
Moe also approached then- University president Mark Yudof with the need to build a stadium. He said Yudof was at first hesitant to the idea and didn’t want to discuss it.
Former Senate majority leader Roger Moe was interested in talking, and he asked Tom Moe about the need for a stadium and what it would accomplish. The two also discussed where to build the stadium.
After enough support had been gathered, the University considered the idea of its own facility. Robert Bruininks was open to the idea when he became president in 2002.
As Moe prepared to leave the University in December 2002, he felt he had unfinished business with the football stadium. He decided to write a letter to Bruininks and incoming AD Joel Maturi to keep the momentum he had created.
In the letter, he outlined why a stadium was needed, what it would take to finance it, what the stadium would look like and where it would be located.
Moe said his idea was an open-air stadium similar in appearance to Mariucci and Williams arenas but with 50,000 seats and 50 suites. He also wanted to have the ability for an expansion of seats.
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed the stadium bill in 2006. TCF Bank Stadium was completed three years later as an open-air, red brick facility with a seating capacity of more than 50,000 seats and 38 suites.
Mason said TCF Bank Stadium exceeds his expectations.
“It’s a first-class facility,” he said.
Moe recently attended a game in which he sat with his family outside, not in one of his envisioned suites.
“I want to be a fan,” he said. He also said he wants his grandchildren to experience the environment of a college game for themselves.
“If it rains, I want it to rain on them,” he said. “If it snows, I want it to snow on them. If it’s cold, I want them to be cold.”