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Mike Jacobs for the Herald

Today's front page reports a growing sense of frustration among supporters of women's hockey at UND.

Their impatience is justified.

UND needs women's hockey.

And soon.

There are plenty of reasons, but it boils down to just one. Women's hockey is the right thing to do.

That's true legally, since UND must provide approximately equal opportunities for men and women in sports. Despite the requirement, male athletes get more money and more attention than women athletes at UND.

There has been progress, of course. Women's basketball is the best example. UND has a nationally competitive program.

The success of women's basketball only argues more strongly for women's hockey. The program has created opportunity for women, and it has brought attention to the university.

Women's hockey will do the same.

There is some risk that UND will be too late on the scene with its women's hockey program. The Western Collegiate Hockey Association may have room for only 10 teams, and the list is filling up. It would be disappointing if UND - the league's most successful men's hockey program, with more national championships than any other WCHA school - were not represented in women's league play.

Then, there is the legal risk to UND. If the university doesn't begin a women's hockey program, it faces the threat of a civil rights lawsuit. Experience at other schools, notably St. Cloud State, suggests it would be a hard case for the university to win.

UND has taken tentative first steps toward a women's hockey program. It has offered club hockey for women, and it hired a talented coach, Bruce Olson. This season, the club team posted a 10-7-1 record against other club teams, including those from Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin. But that's nothing more than a good start.

So far, UND has not produced a plan to move from club hockey to varsity hockey for women.

Nor has the university administration made a definite commitment to a women's hockey program.

That's what needs to happen. President Charles Kupchella and Athletic Director Roger Thomas ought to set a goal to have a women's hockey team on the ice by the start of the 2001 season. The date is significant, because that is the scheduled opening of the new Engelstad Arena. The disparity between men's and women's programs at UND only increases if only men use the new facility.

The arguments in favor of women's hockey are powerful. It will generate fan interest. It will increase the visibility of UND nationally. It will provide new revenue for UND athletic programs.

But most of all, it is the right thing to do.

And the right time to make a commitment is now, while the university community is basking in the glow of its men's hockey program's seventh national championship.

Grand Forks Herald, May 7, 2000