UND women’s hockey handed a bad deal

“Be slow to anger,” the Good Book says. On March 29, 2017 – four years ago this month – the University of North Dakota made a critical mistake when it arbitrarily shut down the successful women’s Fighting Hawks hockey team. By now, it’s okay to be angry. Four years is long enough.

Killing the women’s hockey team is not just a parochial Grand Forks argument. The decision affected every high school in North Dakota with women’s hockey or planning women’s hockey. For them, UND shut the lights out, leaving them without the next step up in their hockey careers.

It wasn’t as though the team was a loser. Far from it. It had an excellent record playing against the major hockey schools in the country. In fact, Coach Brian Sidalski’s team was shut down after it had six winning seasons and one tie.

During its tenure, the team saw 10 Olympians, including the Lamoureux Gold Medal stars from Grand Forks.

There were individual honors: Shelby Amsley-Benzie, Goal tending Champion; Casie Hanson, Outstanding WCHA Student Athlete; Michelle Karvinen, WCHA Rookie of the Year, and Jocelyne Lamoureux, WCHA Outstanding Student Athlete.

On the whole, this was a remarkable assembly of excellent hockey players who were blindsided by the decision, actually leaving an arriving recruit standing at the airport. To say the least, it was a crude way to implement a bad decision and was disrespectful of the women involved.

“They” said that closure of the program was required to close a gap of $1.3 million in the budget of the UND athletic department and that there wasn’t enough fan revenue to justify continuing. Without looking at the books, some fans have noted that taking all sports to Division 1 was more costly than expected.

Did women’s hockey go on the block to pay for the shortage caused by going to Division I?

The shortage of a paying crowd is true, but considering the context of the nation’s leading hockey school, money shouldn’t have been the persuasive argument.

Back in the 1970s when saving gas was a national objective, the federal government paid the UND Bureau of Governmental Affairs to analyze busing and carpooling. We got a transportation expert from Minneapolis and a specialist from NDSU to do the technical analysis.

Inevitably, an objection was raised to considering busing because city bus systems don’t have the clientele to avoid red ink. Our Minneapolis consultant pointed out, however, that bus systems and libraries always lose money but they add significantly to the overall culture of the city.

That observation applies to Fighting Hawks women’s hockey. This team of remarkable young women added to the culture of a top hockey state. They carried the flag, so as to speak.

While the hockey fans of North Dakota wrung their hands, 11 team members appealed the decision on the basis of language in Title IX of federal legislation requiring equal opportunity in sports for girls and women.

Other Factors Not Considered

Unfortunately, the decision was based on a nose count rather than a quality count. Everything considered, the women’s hockey team was more than one-for-one against any men’s team on campus.

The decision by the DOE Office for Civil Rights did not consider the years of success in major league hockey, the impact on high school hockey around the state, the image of the University, and the unfair treatment of the women in the program. Money shouldn’t have been everything.

Lloyd Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota and former political science professor at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.


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