I think the University of North Dakota made the right decision when they closed down the women’s hockey program. The games were sparsely attended, and the cost of the team itself pretty large.
It’s my position that public universities ought to shut down any sports program which can’t subsist on its own revenues. The cost of attending an institution like UND shouldn’t be higher because the institution is subsidizing sports programs.
Universities are for academics. They should not be host bodies for the college sports industry.
That said, this letter in the Grand Forks Herald today from UND alumna Marj Rew raises a legitimate complaint about how the women’s hockey program has been treated since its demise. According to Rew, memorabilia from the program has been taken down at the Ralph Englestad Arena:
I took family who were in for the Frozen Four tournament up to Grand Forks to tour the Ralph Engelstad Arena, and during the tour we asked where the pictures of the previous women’s hockey teams and players, and especially the gold medal-winning UND alumni like the Lamoureux sisters, could be found in the arena. We were told by the tour guide that everything related to women’s hockey had been removed from the arena and the tour guide was not sure where it was.
Are we not proud of the accomplishments of these very talented athletes? As an alumna of the university, this was really upsetting to me, and the rumble in the crowd on the tour implied that I was not the only one with this feeling. The tour guide told us that we were not the first to ask this question, and I would suspect that each time it is asked the feelings are the same in the crowd.
I asked my Forum Communications colleague Brad Schlossman about this. Schlossman covers the hockey beat in Grand Forks. He confirmed most of what Rew wrote.
“It was taken down before the girls even left for the summer,” he told me, though he added that it wasn’t a complete expungement.
“She says in her letter that ‘everything’ was taken down, which isn’t accurate,” Schlossman continued. “There is a board dedicated to UND’s Olympians, World Championship players and U18 players next to one of the tunnels that fans enter to go to their seats. There also is an international Olympic thing with memorabilia from men’s players that have played in Olympics, and I believe they have a couple of things from Jocelyne and Monique [Lamoreux] in there.”
Still, despite these caveats, Rew’s larger point is a sound one. Taking down these photos and other memorabilia seems almost Orwellian. As if the university can stave off criticism of the decision to shut down the program by sending the program’s history down the memory hole.
UND should defend the decision, not hide from it, because it was the right one. Besides, UND can make a sound fiscal argument for the efficacy of that decision while simultaneously recognizing that the women’s hockey program featured some stellar athletes who accomplished great things.
For better or worse, collegiate sports aren’t going anywhere. But we can perhaps develop better policies for how those sports programs relate to the primary mission of the universities, which is education. That sort of reform is harder when institutions like UND alienate sports fans.