It's been amusing to watch the Minnesota university system and state legislature squabble over what to call the new stadium that will be built on the U of M campus. TCF Financial Corp. is willing to contribute $35 million to the project if the school will agree to call it "TCF Bank Stadium."
Some legislators have introduced a bill to stop this, on the grounds that such a name would be demeaning to the institution. At first glance this sounds a little odd. Colleges have been selling naming rights to contributors since Harvard opened in 1636.
What's so bad about doing it now?
Well, I'm not sure, but I think it's just that we're used to naming school property after people, not corporations.
Brandeis University, where I went, was heavily subsidized in the 1950s by some big-time corporate executives. Had they insisted on publicity for their companies, rather than themselves, we would have had the Fruit of the Loom library, the Stop and Shop Graduate Center, and the Q-Tips Science Quadrangle. Fortunately, the heads of these business empires put personal vanity ahead of corporate publicity and put their own names on the buildings, which nobody objected to.
I'm wondering if a little old-fashioned personal megalomania might not be the best solution to the naming rights circus that is embarrassing public institutions all over the country. The CEO puts up the money and he gets full authority to name the building. But it has to be his own name.
So the new University of Minnesota facility would be William Cooper stadium -- a perfectly respectable name for a structure at least somewhat connected to higher education. I hope Mr. Cooper would accept that honor in the same spirit as countless donors in years past.
In the end, though, the the U of M may have to swallow "TCF Bank Stadium" as the lesser of evils. After Cooper's company, the next biggest donor appears to be Best Buy. Think of how much fun it would be to spend a crisp fall afternoon in the leafy environs of Best Buy Ballpark.