Gophers need more room

Minnesota’s nearly 30-year-old football complex hosts three teams come spring.
A Gopher baseball player prepares for practice Tuesday night at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Practice Complex. Minnesota's baseball and softball teams work to share the facility with the football team during the spring.
April 02, 2014

Gophers punter Peter Mortell caught a long snap and booted a moonshot toward the punt returner during last Thursday’s spring football practice at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex.

The return man didn’t have to move.

Mortell’s punt shtoinked off the ceiling, and chips of plaster floated dozens of feet down to the playing surface.

A few feet away, raindrops trickled through the leaky roof of the complex.

Built in 1985, the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex is home to the football program, but it’s literally falling apart. Still, it’s being used almost all day by multiple teams on campus.

Minnesota’s baseball and softball teams share the decrepit facility with the football team during the early months of the spring season.

The Gophers baseball team practiced at the Metrodome for more than 25 years before leaving for Siebert Field last year.

A crippling winter, however, has made the new Siebert Field unplayable for most of the season thus far. That, coupled with the demolition of the Metrodome, leaves the Gibson-Nagurski Complex as the only viable indoor practice facility during the winter months.

Minnesota’s softball team, on the other hand, is more used to practicing at the crumbling complex — it’s been the team’s primary practice facility in recent years.

All things considered, though, it’s a wee bit crowded.

“You talk to [head baseball coach John Anderson] … our women’s softball coach, you talk to our soccer team — we’re all in here,” head football coach Jerry Kill said. “We got people practicing 8:30, 9:30, 10 [p.m.]”

University athletics administrators have worked with the baseball and softball teams to set up practice schedules that don’t interfere with spring football.

The Gophers baseball and softball teams have traded early afternoon and evening practice times this season, but it’s still a hassle.

“We have people that are missing here and there for classes,” Gophers outfielder Bobby Juan said. “We almost never have the full team together for practice.”

The football team has a set spring practice schedule, and its needs are the first priority.

“It is part of the deal,” Anderson said. “You have to find out ways to do it. It’s not for the weak and the meek.”

Anderson said the facility limits what the baseball team can do at practice. His outfielders don’t get to play any real fly balls, batting practice is relegated to the batting cages, and hitters can’t track the ball’s trajectory nearly as well, making it tougher to monitor and fix swing mechanics.

Gophers head softball coach Jessica Allister said outfield work is a struggle for her players as well, but she said they’re able to set up a full infield and have relatively normal practices.

In general, softball fields are roughly two-thirds the size of most baseball fields. Because of that, “we get everything else done that we need to do,” Allister said.

While the baseball team hosted Michigan State at Siebert Field last weekend, the team still hasn’t practiced there this year.

And practicing inside is wearing on players and coaches.

“It’s depressing,” Anderson said. “You’re looking outside and it’s snowing out. You just got to prepare and practice.”

The Star Tribune reported last week that the University is set to break ground on a new football practice facility this winter.

University athletics director Norwood Teague refuted the claim at a press conference last Friday. Teague did say there’s significant progress on the fundraising front for a $190 million facilities plan announced over the summer, but he gave no indication about a new football practice facility.

University President Eric Kaler also brushed off the Star Tribune reports.

“We haven’t nailed down either the price or the time,” he told the Minnesota Daily on Tuesday.

Still, Kill was adamant about the need for a new facility, and he made it clear that his intentions are to get the ball rolling soon.

“If we get something built as fast as we can get it built, it takes pressure [off everyone because then] everybody’s got a place to work,” he said. “We’ve all got to work together — every one of us. We’re going to get that indoor [facility] sooner or later.”

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