For Minnesota Gophers fans, March Madness is March sadness
This is usually one of my favorite weeks — the first round of the NCAA March Madness tournament.
Yes, but: I've never been so disinterested.
State of play: The Gophers men's team hasn't qualified for the tournament since 2019 and hasn't made it to the Sweet 16 since 1997.
- The women's team hasn't made the tournament since 2018 and the Sweet 16 since 2005.
Why it matters: That 1996-1997 Gophers Final Four run turned me into a March Madness fan.
- The Lindsay Whalen-led teams of the mid-2000s sucked me into the women's tournament.
What's happening: An entire generation of Minnesotans — or at least those who didn't go to an out-of-town Division I school — have seen no such magic.
- And memories of the Gophers' successes of 20 and 30 years ago are fading for the rest of us.
Threat level: It looks like the problem is only getting worse. In the midst of a last-place finish in the Big Ten, the Gophers' prized recruit, Dennis Evans, backed out of his commitment to play here.
Meanwhile: With new and overdue rules allowing players to cash in on their name, image and likeness (NIL), groups of donors are forming collectives to funnel money to players.
- It’s hard to imagine the Gophers keeping up with blue blood schools like Kansas, Duke and Kentucky, who have plenty of alumni donors.
Perhaps St. Thomas, which recently jumped into Division I and had a good second season, could provide local fans some excitement. UST certainly has plenty of wealthy alumni.
- But they won't be eligible for the tournament until 2027.
The bottom line: The NCAA has to figure out how to increase parity in college basketball. Otherwise, for many of us, the tournament feels like it’s being played in a different universe.
More Twin Cities stories
No stories could be found
Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Twin Cities.