Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Watching A Pillar Crumble

I am at a loss for words today. There is really nothing more disheartening than taking terrible news with no preparation for it, but the actions today by the University of North Dakota administration have left a sour taste in everyone's mouths. The announcement of their dissolving the Division-I women's hockey program as part of larger cost-cutting measures in the university's budget is a bitter pill to swallow for everyone, but especially for the players affected.

Perhaps the worst part of this announcement is that the majority of players found out via Twitter after their practice or while at the Women's World Championship in Plymouth, Michigan. Honestly, I'm not sure there's a worse way to deliver the news to 25-or-so women who were giving their all for the school than for them to find out via Twitter from newspaper reporters and news outlets. The fallout from this public relations nightmare won't be good.

I take no credit in posting any of these tweets below, so full credit goes to the writers who composed them. I am simply posting the timeline so you can see how some players found out. Note the times on the tweets.
At 3:30pm at a news conference, the rumours turned into reality as the UND women's hockey program was cut. Suddenly, life changed in an instant for the women and staff that worked in the hockey program, and many of the women would have some tough decisions to make when it came to their hockey futures. The WCHA statement is below regarding the loss of the North Dakota program.

And it doesn't stop there. What do recruits who expected a scholarship do? It's not like there are unlimited budgets at other D1 schools for them to accept. Their futures might be most at-risk when it comes to post-secondary education and, perhaps one day, playing for their country. One such player? Emilie Harley from Jamesville, NY.
And it seems no D1 school waits to improve itself. The remains of the women's program were still warm when, apparently, the UND players were already being contacted.
And that young lady who had flown in to tour the campus when this news was delivered. Her name is Lauren Hennessey, and she's a goaltender from Lynnfield, Massachusetts. If you'll note, that's a recruit from New York and another from Massaschusetts who had committed to UND for next season and beyond.

"I had multiple Division I offers, but made my decision on UND because of its Olympic and professional hockey history," Hennessey told Inforum's Ross Torgerson. And it only got worse.
And then, the news came.

After watching the UND women's team practice, Hennessey was asked to meet and talk with the coaching staff. That is when head coach Brian Idalski informed Hennessey that the UND women's hockey program was getting cut from the athletic department. The dream was no longer a reality.

"My parents and I were in complete shock," Hennessey said. "It all took a while to sink in before we realized what was truly happening."
"I rejected a lot of Division I offers to come to UND," Hennessey said.

With a majority of Division I women's hockey programs already locking in their commitments for this year and the year's ahead, Hennessey is now worried that her hockey career might be coming to an abrupt end.

"This puts me in a very tough situation," Hennessey said. "My dream of playing Division I hockey is now slim-to-none."
Look, I understand that budget cuts to any program are going to result in some tough decisions to be made. UND was told by the state of North Dakota to axe some $32 million from its budget this year after projected shortfalls were much worse than expected. As a state-funded institution, UND's budget was on the chopping block when it came to minimize the projected deficit.

Sports, including women's hockey and both the men's and women's swimming programs, weren't the only departments to be affected by the cuts. The University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences was forced to cut $4.9 million from its clinical departments. The women's hockey program, in comparison, will save the campus approximately $1.5 million annually. Yes, that's a big number for an athletics program, but it's hard to argue with the results when nine women currently playing at the Women's World Championship represent the University of North Dakota. For all the free marketing the program gets when mentioned on the broadcasts of these games, it's all for naught now as the university starts pinching pennies.

"I am worried about my academic opportunities because I'm not ready to graduate yet," senior Antonia Kalal told Liz Kacher of Dakota Student. "I am worried about professional programs, like the law school, since we have the only law school in the state."

In that same article, it was reported that, "Athletics has been asked to now find ways to reduce its budget by $1.3 million," an amount that is less than the UND women's hockey program's costs. The swimming program's cuts appear to be due to North Dakota's impending move to the Summit League in 2018-19 and the costs it will incur if they can't find the funding to continue the program which Miss Kacher outlined below.
Members of the Summit League are required to pay the league a penalty amount of $150,000 for each Summit-sponsored program that is eliminated during the first eight years of membership. Being that UND won't enter the Summit League until the 2018-19, it is uncertain whether or not this will affect UND's future.
It seems as though the swimming programs were doomed from the start. UND, based on this knowledge, most likely cut the swimming teams as they looked ahead at a future $300,000 hit if the state and school were to continue cutting the athletic department's budget. This evidence leads me to believe that the only cut that the school was going to make at today's announcement was women's hockey based on the information above and the tweet that Brad Schlossman sent out about how swimming staff were to also be at the scheduled meeting with the women's hockey staff.

Ultimately, UND ruined the lives of many men and women today because of the state's shortfall in its budget. What bothers me is that they seemingly identified the $1.3 million budget cut by focusing in on the one program that costs them $1.5 million annually despite the recognition that program brings the school. It's why women from Massachusetts and New York were interested in playing in North Dakota rather than staying closer to home with schools in the northeast. It's why you have nine women playing at the Women's World Championships right now.
You've lost my support, UND. Not that you cared anyway.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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