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April's comfortable temperatures have allowed UND hockey fans to bask in the warm spring glow of their team's seventh national NCAA Division I championship.
The mild winter also allowed construction on the new $50 million Engelstad Hockey Arena to steam ahead of schedule. That's where UND's men will play in 2001.
But the weather hasn't cooled the temperatures of women's hockey advocates, who hoped to see UND launch a women's Division I hockey team at the new arena by fall 2001.
They say UND has failed to follow through with a plan to institute a Division I hockey program for women despite the recommendation by a university committee last year that UND have such a team in place by the fall of 2001.
"I do not believe that there has been a dedicated effort to make this program happen," said Charlotte Hovet, president of the Grand Forks Women's and Girls Hockey Association. "There doesn't seem to be any committed leadership within UND itself to facilitate this program," she said.
As a result, Hovet and others argue that women are being denied equal opportunities at UND under Title IX law, legislation passed by Congress that requires federally-funded schools to provide equal access to sports and other activities for men and women under the 14th Amendment.
If only men play in the new Engelstad Arena, Hovet and other local and regional supporters of women's hockey said UND will have moved in the wrong direction.
"It's my opinion that for UND to actively plan for years to put a men's hockey team into an estimated $50 million arena and at the same time make no clear commitment to a women's program moves them further away from being in compliance with Title IX," Hovet said.
"No one wants a lawsuit. But there are individuals like myself who want the existing inequities in the opportunities and resources available for women to be resolved. We need leadership commitment to this program, and then a formal implementation program."
UND Athletic Director Roger Thomas said he understands why supporters of women's hockey are frustrated.
For one thing, they've been at it longer than he has, said Thomas, who has been athletic director for nine months. UND President Charles Kupchella has also been on the job for less than a year.
Thomas said he's talked with the committee and Kupchella about a Division I women's hockey program, and he said he doesn't think anyone opposes Division I women's hockey at UND.
"I think there's a good chance, down the road, that it will happen," Thomas said.
All of UND is engaged in strategic planning, including the athletic department. Kupchella said Thomas is charged with determining how women's hockey fits into the strategic plan of UND athletics and the overall strategic plan of UND.
"We really need to see it in the context of the whole picture," Kupchella said. Under the overall strategic plan for UND, the school may determine when, when and how it launches a women's hockey program.
Could UND have a Division I program in place for women by fall 2001?
"I couldn't answer that," said Thomas. He said he would meet with Kupchella to talk about the topic in the near future, after he gathered information about UND's club team and the teams that played in the inaugural season of the women's WCHA.
Thomas said he's submitted some ideas to Kupchella of what UND would need to do to implement a Division I program. But he said he didn't know precisely when UND would be ready to share its plan for a Division I women's program with the public.
"I would like to do that in the near future," Thomas said.
In 1998, UND President Kendall Baker appointed a committee to examine the possibility of establishing a NCAA Division I women's hockey team at UND.
In March 1999, the committee recommended in its final report that UND initiate a Division I program for women in the 2001-202 academic year after running a club program in 1999-2000 and 2000-2001.
UND's club team finished with a 10-7-1 record in its first year under coach Bruce Olson. The season included wins against club teams from the Universities of Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin. Of 26 players, 25 finished the year.
"I just think it's going to get better and better every year," said Olson, who wants UND to launch a Division I women's program without putting other UND sports in a bind.
"Obviously they want to see it happen," Olson said of UND's administration. "I'm more concerned that they do everything correctly and once they go in, that they have a good idea of what it takes to run a successful program."
Olson and Hovet both said they believe there's enough interest to support a top program at UND. More than 100 women and girls in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks and about 400 women and girls in North Dakota are playing organized hockey.
Thomas said the possibility of a Division I women's hockey program at UND is real. "The question now is how to get there (and how) to do it correctly."
That will involve meeting a series of challenges, Thomas said. The team would need a coach and assistant coaches. It would need to schedule opponents. Ice times for practices and games would have to be organized.
And then there are the finances of Division I women's hockey. According to a worksheet drawn up by Men's Hockey Coach Dean Blais in 1999 for the committee studying the possibility of women's hockey at UND, initial costs for the program would be $392,515 in addition to annual costs of nearly $500,000.
"You're looking at $600,000 to $900,000 on an annual basis," said Sarah Martin, commissioner of the women's WCHA.
"That's a big chunk for Minnesota and Ohio State, and when you're looking at some of our schools that are Division II and Division III, it just makes it more challenging," Martin said.
If UND is going to have a Division I women's hockey program, Thomas said he'd like to do it the right way. "We've got to make it work financially," he said.
That means making sure that other sports in the UND program aren't ignored either.
"We're still trying to add money to other sports that are underfunded," said Thomas. "The playing field isn't level here. When that's happening internally, it makes it more difficult to start another sport, particularly an expensive sport."
Hovet said she understands the cost of instituting a Division I women's hockey program is a real challenge.
"And funding is not a minor issue," she said, "but I also feel strongly that finding the funding will never occur unless there's a commitment on the part of UND to proceed in that direction.
"We feel frustrated because we do believe that it is the right thing for UND to do," Hovet said. "It is the right thing in creating equal opportunities for students at UND. "
Source: Grand Forks Herald, May 7, 2000