Incoming athletic director looks to rekindle rivalries, develop programs

GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota athletic department enters a new era next fall, moving the majority of the school’s sports programs from the Big Sky Conference to the Summit League. The football team will soon follow to the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
On the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 16, at Ralph Engelstad Arena, UND introduced a new leader to bring the department into this next chapter.
With the school band and cheerleaders acting as ushers to the podium, UND President Mark Kennedy announced Bill Chaves as the 16th athletic director in UND’s history.
“Overall, I’m humbled and honored to be here,” said Chaves, who’s leaving his post as athletic director at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash. “It’s an exciting opportunity. This particular situation is especially exciting with the majority of sports going back into the Summit and rekindling rivalries back along Interstate 29. I’m looking forward to the next decade.”
Chaves will succeed Brian Faison, who retired Dec. 31 after a 10-year run in Grand Forks.
After meeting with members of the media during the day, Chaves was scheduled to travel to Fargo on Tuesday night to meet with Kennedy, North Dakota State President Dean Bresciani and Bison Athletic Director Matt Larsen prior to a men’s basketball game between the two schools.
That meeting will be the beginning of Chaves’ feeling-out process with his new home.
“I’m more of a ‘Let’s see what’s there and what’s occurred’ … a listener,” Chaves said about his initial strategy. “If something needs to be decided, I’ll do it, but I think there’s always great things that occurred previously, and you have to look at what the next chapter looks like.”
Chaves noted UND’s place as a relative newcomer to Division I athletics, pointing out most of the programs are in their “teenage years.”
He said those “teenage” Division I programs have to be balanced with a historic men’s hockey program.
“Those are the balances and the challenges, and they’re all great,” Chaves said. “As long as you are unified as a department, all of the tide can rise.”
When Chaves was offered the job by Kennedy during the weekend, he called his wife, Liz, who was in Canada to watch their son play hockey.
After talking with his wife, Chaves called Kennedy back.
“The only pause was I really love the Spokane community,” Chaves said. “What little I can tell here is it seems similar in many ways. I had a similar circumstance 10 years ago. I got dropped in there and knew nobody. We’ve had that experience.”
Chaves, who grew up in New England, has had professional stops at Quinnipiac University, Hamden, Conn.; University of Massachusetts; Northeastern University, Boston; and Baylor University, Waco, Texas, among others.
“I look forward to meeting people,” Chaves said. “The passion for North Dakota athletics … you can feel it. It’s something I can glean from folks who have experience here. I’m also not absent of ideas. I have plenty of thoughts, but not everything works in every place and I have to be cognizant of that.”