I can't say I'm surprised at the cold shoulder Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has turned toward the Minnesota Vikings' stadium proposal. State government in Minnesota, and probably other states as well, has devolved into crisis management of only the most urgent matters. Any decisions that can be pushed into the future are done so with no remorse.
And as we discussed last Friday, the Vikings' future won't be urgent from a political perspective until Feb. 1, 2012, when their lease at the Metrodome expires. Dayton's comments to reporters Tuesday afternoon indicate he has little interest in calling a special legislative session this fall to approve a stadium plan and might set aside the issue until the 2012 session begins in late January.
By then, however, the state will have used up every last ounce of the leverage it has held over the franchise during what has been a decade-long stadium battle. In essence, Dayton has invited the Vikings, the NFL and Los Angeles stadium proponents to begin discussing relocation.
Relocation isn't the Vikings' preferred route, and I'm betting the NFL wouldn't make them its first choice to move to Los Angeles, either. The Vikings have a 50-year history in Minnesota and a large regional fan base. On the other hand, there is precedent for a team mired in a dead-end stadium deal to arrange its relocation during a football season and move immediately after its conclusion.
The Vikings issued a five-word response to Dayton's comments: "We are assessing our options." If you think that relocation isn't one of them, your head is in the sand.
I don't want to sound any dramatic alarms. Many stadium agreements around the country have been preceded by threats, ultimatums and other political wrangling not unlike what we're seeing in Minnesota. But if Dayton intends to negotiate a stadium deal next winter, the urgency and leverage gained by the Vikings will almost certainly result in a more expensive deal for taxpayers than if he had buckled down and addressed it this summer.
Remember our central stadium tenet: This issue won't be resolved until it blows up into a full-scale crisis. We're well on our way.
If you really want to be a cynic, a state of mind I for one am predisposed for, you wonder if the forces who prefer the stadium to be built in downtown Minneapolis have effectively put the kibosh on the current proposal for suburban Arden Hills. By delaying until next winter, local politicians would have time to shift the Vikings' focus back to the city. Their deal with Ramsey County contains an out clause that can be activated at any time.
Whether a Minneapolis option surfaces could be moot. After a decade of stadium defeats, the Vikings are in a position to turn up the relocation heat if they want. I think they should. What do they have to lose?