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Opinion: Environment at UND games needs a boost

Herald editorial board

It is so disappointing to see empty seats at a UND football game.

Sure, we suppose it's bound to happen when the team is struggling to win games. But in 2016, that wasn't the case. The Fighting Hawks won dramatic, emotional games and claimed a share of the Big Sky Conference championship.

And still, there were some empty seats in the Alerus Center.

What gives?

That's something a new committee is considering as the 2017 season gets underway. The 30-member UND Football Game Day Experience Committee is tasked with energizing the atmosphere at Hawks games. Really, it's a project that already has begun with the reemergence of the program under coach Bubba Schweigert, who took a struggling program and turned it into a conference champion in just three seasons.

Off the field, UND President Mark Kennedy provided the spark that led to the committee's formation. He's only been on campus a year but realized football interest at the Alerus Center doesn't necessarily correlate with the team's on-field success.

He views the committee as the force behind a three-year effort to make the game-day experience at UND the best in the FCS — the division in which UND plays.

So far, it's more ideas than plans. The group has only met twice, and there's only so much that can be done to affect this coming season.

One great change coming is an upgrade to the Alerus Center's lighting and sound systems. It's not due to the new committee, but was simply a renovation taken on by the Alerus Center. It was desperately needed and should make a noticeable difference this season.

Other changes this year could be as simple as new crowd cheers (after a first down, for instance), better fan engagement through music, new team entrances and introductions, and changes to UND fan attire (formalizing one shade of green).

The tailgating process needs work, and that is one of the committee's top challenges. And the Alerus Center itself could use more green paint.

We could go on and on. So could the committee.

Our advice to fans is to be patient — the group's goal is to bring a sea change by 2020.

But just as when a football bounces on the artificial turf at the Alerus Center, nothing is certain.

One problem will be funding. Ideas eventually cost money, and who will pay? The Alerus Center? Fans? UND? Sponsors? Possibly all of the above, Kennedy said.

And will fans embrace the changes? We hope so.

We are glad the process has started and look forward to the changes. The environment surrounding a UND football game should match what's happening on the field.

Note: Herald Publisher Korrie Wenzel serves on the Game Day Experience Committee.