Even though Minnesota has failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament the past two years, Trevor Mbakwe is certain the Gophers will end that drought this March.
The star forward even went so far as to promise late Saturday night that he will give back his scholarship money from this school year if Minnesota doesn't hear its name called on Selection Sunday in five months.
Mbakwe's willingness to lighten his wallet if his team fails to live up to expectations is very rare but not unheard of in professional or college sports.
In 2o02, the Atlanta Hawks guaranteed season-ticket holders a $125 refund if the team did not make the playoffs, a goal the franchise failed to reach. In 2003, Bob Knight told Texas Tech he wouldn't accept his $250,000 coaching salary after the Red Raiders concluded the regular season with a 16-11 record, seven victories shy of the 23 wins they achieved the previous season.
The most similar offer to Mbakwe's is one made by former Oklahoma star Courney Paris, the daughter of former NFL offensive lineman Bubba Paris. Entering her senior season, Paris pledged to give back her scholarship if the Sooners did not win a championship, but the university did not hold her to the promise when the team lost 61-59 to Louisville in the national semifinals.
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It's a more reachable goal for Mbakwe to lead Minnesota to the NCAA tournament than it was for Paris to take Oklahoma to a national title.
Minnesota won 23 games and reached the NIT title game last year despite losing Mbakwe to a torn ACL before the start of conference play. With Mbakwe healthy again and the young core of last year's team returning intact, the Gophers have the talent necessary to finish in the upper half of the Big Ten and end their NCAA tournament drought.
It's unlikely Mbakwe would actually have to pay back his scholarship if Minnesota did underachieve and fail to make the NCAA tournament, but his promise could be very expensive if he felt compelled to keep his word.
Although the exact value of an athletic scholarship to Minnesota is unclear, annual tuition alone for an out-of-state resident costs $18,774. Add in the cost of books, room and board and a little bit of spending money, and Mbakwe's scholarship is probably worth at least $30,000 — and that may be a conservative estimate.
Considering Mbakwe's history of off-the-court trouble, perhaps he should have restrained from Saturday night's tweets.
Mbakwe's confidence in his team is admirable. His judgment remains a work in progress.
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