Gophers sports fans are sending a message

It’s welcome week at the University of Minnesota. Last evening, bands of roving future leaders checked out the campus and got tours from their veteran peers. There’s little that’s more inspiring than watching a bunch of kids who are excited about the future.

So, on Wednesday night they all assembled for a pep rally at the stadium named after a bank.

Behold, the Class of ’22!

For many, it’ll be the last time they see the inside of the place.

Football? So yesterday. Increasingly, so irrelevant.

In its recent series, the Star Tribune has signaled a brewing crisis: people aren’t going to watch the Gophers play football anymore.

Ticket revenue for all Gophers sports is down 28 percent in the last three years. Most of the decline is in football, men’s hockey, and men’s basketball.

It’s not just Minnesota; college football attendance is mostly down everywhere.

So today, the Star Tribune holds its own pep rally on the opinion page with an editorial — actually an infomercial for the football team.

The university has made a large investment in coaching salaries and facilities. Gophers fans can be part of the solution by buying tickets, getting the maroon and gold out of the closet and coming back to campus on game days. High definition is great, but nothing beats being part of a home crowd, surrounded by the sights and sounds of college football.

It’s understandable that many fans are skeptical. It’s true that winning will cure a lot of what ails the football program, as well as men’s basketball and hockey. But the support of alumni, students and sports fans from across the state is critical in the early stages of the revival, too, and that begins with showing up.

Well, let’s see now. What could possibly turn people off to the U’s athletics department? The sexual assault scandal of a few years ago? The sexual harassment of a female reporter by the athletic director who was then forced to resign? The cesspool of the NCAA? The sweetheart contract extensions for coaches who haven’t won anything? Personal seat licenses imposed on longtime season-ticket holders? The botched “scholarship seat” that treated fans like ATMs?

True, faces change and new kids come along, but fans have seen the “snake oil” salesmen of the past and they’re not buying it. And, they really only have one way to express their legitimate skepticism: staying home.

They have no responsibility to support anything; it’s not up to them to defend their decision to say “enough.”

In his sports section column, writer Chip Scoggins calls for time and patience while acknowledging the woes.

Gophers fans don’t need a history lesson on the program’s lack of success. That horse has been kicked enough. But the effects of that history are still being felt, along with Norwood Teague’s disastrous attempt at a money grab. The former AD couldn’t have read the room any worse with his scholarship seating plan back in 2014. It’s a tossup as to which turned off fans more: the collapse vs. Michigan in 2003 or Teague’s tone-deaf price hike on tickets.

In firing Tracy Claeys and then hiring P.J. Fleck, Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle said he wanted to “shake the tree.” Coyle needs a lot of victories to fall out of that tree in order to lure back long-time loyalists who bolted in protest of scholarship seating.

Sports charlatans have built palaces on the backs of taxpayers in the promise that it will lead to future success. It almost never has. So perhaps the tide is turning and fans have a legitimate point.

The responsibility isn’t on the fans anymore and they deserve no editorial guilt trips. It’s on the university to prove things are different.