News Release

Gopher Athletics highlights successes, challenges from an extraordinary year

Woman playing softball is seen in a close up picture through her wire facemask, attached to her Maroon batting helmet with a Gold, throwback version of Goldy Gopher on it

In its annual report to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents, Gopher Athletics detailed a year unlike any other in the department’s history—punctuated by extraordinary academic and athletic achievements against a backdrop of persistent, pandemic-fueled challenges.

Despite interrupted seasons, some of which were delayed or restructured, Athletics Director Mark Coyle reiterated that every Gopher team competed last year, helping the department to a top-30 finish in the Learfield Directors’ Cup, a national, all-sports competition featuring nearly 300 universities. Contributing to that broad-based success were three teams winning Big Ten titles—along with 28 Gophers winning individual Big Ten titles and seven student-athletes winning individual national championships. 
Coyle celebrated the continued academic accomplishments of Gopher student-athletes as well. While navigating unexpected shifts to fully online and hybrid classes, the cumulative grade point average for Gopher student-athletes reached 3.44 following the most recent spring semester, the highest in department history. A significant majority of Gopher student-athletes—431 over the course of the year—were recognized as Academic All-Big Ten, with 180 going on to Big Ten Distinguished Scholar status, 33 earning Academic All-District distinction and 15 earning Academic All-American honors. Each of those were all-time highs for Gopher Athletics.

While maintaining and building upon strong results in recent years, both in competition and in the classroom, athletics leadership also detailed for the Board the financial challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which mirror many challenges recently experienced by all NCAA institutions. 

In fall 2020, Coyle and his leadership team forecasted potentially dire financial circumstances if interruptions to athletic seasons continued. Ultimately, thanks to some modified operations and aggressive efforts to manage expenses (e.g., cutting budgets, reducing pay, eliminating positions), the department reduced expenses by about $30 million and finished fiscal year 2021 with a $21.5 million deficit, less than one-third of the worst-case scenarios outlined early in the pandemic. Driving that deficit was $45 million in projected revenue that was never realized because fans were not allowed to attend competitions and fewer competitions occurred as a result of public health considerations. New expenses, largely related to COVID-19 mitigation efforts, also affected the bottom line.

To address this deficit, Coyle and the Board discussed debt financing and how the department would integrate an interest-bearing loan into its operating budget in coming years to pay off that difference.

The Board also: 

  • Discussed work plans for all Board committees for the coming year.
  • Received the annual update on academic program changes detailing programs that were launched, discontinued or significantly modified this past year.
  • Reviewed the President’s recommended six-year capital plan and 2022 state capital request.
  • Discussed principles for strategic acquisition and sales of University property.
  • Received an update on ongoing operational impacts related to COVID-19
  • Discussed how the University is investing in safety on its Twin Cities campus, as well as with partners off-campus in the neighborhoods where members of the University community live.
  • Discussed a conceptual overview and consultation plan for building naming policy amendments.
  • Discussed the latest updates on the Positioned for Excellence, Alignment and Knowledge (PEAK) Initiative, a systemwide effort to identify opportunities across non-academic functions and increase efficiency or gain capacity to advance the University’s teaching, research and outreach mission.
  • Received a report on private giving from the University of Minnesota Foundation and celebrated the successful conclusion of the Driven campaign.

The Board of Regents is scheduled to meet next on Oct. 7-8, 2021. Visit for more information.

Media Contacts

Jake Ricker

University Public Relations