Kennedy says supporters finding $60M to endow women's hockey 'unrealistic'
UND President Mark Kennedy said he has informed women's hockey supporters—including alumnus Mark Chipman, who heads the Winnipeg Jets ownership group—that it needs to raise $60 million to endow the program to keep it going, and the supporters have found that figure to be "unrealistic."
While Kennedy admitted he would consider reinstating the program if a $60 million check landed on his desk today, he said ideally, it needed to happen last week and time is running out for any recourse on his decision to cut the program.
One player has already signed to play elsewhere—sophomore forward Rebekah Kolstad, a Mankato, Minn., native, is headed home to play for Minnesota State-Mankato—and with dwindling hopes for saving the program, more are expected to soon follow.
Kennedy said he did not give the team the option to raise enough funds to keep it going for a few years while working toward an endowment, an opportunity afforded to the men's golf program last year.
Women's hockey supporters argued for that option, but Kennedy said he wasn't considering it because he didn't want to have to cut the team again in a few years.
"Was it painful to make the cuts? It was very painful," Kennedy said about eliminating women's hockey and men's and women's swimming and diving programs as part of campuswide budget cuts. "We didn't want to set ourselves up to go through it again."
Anticipating a dip in state funding, Kennedy told the athletic department to cut $1.3 million from its budget. He accepted athletic director Brian Faison's proposal to cut women's hockey and men's and women's swimming and diving, which totals roughly $2.9 in savings, though some of that will have to be filtered into other programs to hit Title IX and Summit League requirements.
The day after UND announced the cuts, Chipman sent an email to Kennedy and Faison.
Chipman, a former UND football player whose daughter was a senior goalie on last year's women's hockey team, said his "confidence has been shaken in the University of North Dakota."
Chipman said in his letter: "Ironically, I was asked to speak this week at a UND admissions event here in Winnipeg at which I expressed my deep passion for all things UND. I was struck by the theme of the video and how the University was uniquely built on a foundation of overcoming struggle and hard times. The decision yesterday to terminate the Women's Hockey program is the antithesis of that history. Instead of finding a way to persevere, we are seen to simply quit and leave some extremely talented and deeply committed coaches, student athletes and staff out in the cold."
Chipman also had phone conversations with both Kennedy and Faison about saving the program.
Kennedy said there was concern about alienating an alum like Chipman, who won the Sioux Award for his "unwavering commitment to the service of others, high achievement throughout his chosen career or profession, leadership ability and loyalty to his alma mater through the generosity of time, talent and treasure."
"It pains me and hurts me to have him not have good feelings about his University," Kennedy said. "But there are big financial deficits."
Kennedy said the baseball team found that endowing their program was unrealistic and that the men's golf program, which needs to hit $4 million by next summer or it will be cut, also has found it challenging.
When Faison informed the women's hockey and men's and women's swimming of their fates on March 29, he told the student-athletes that it doesn't look like golf is going to be able to raise enough funds to sustain the program beyond the 2017-18 season.
Kennedy said he talked to the programs in the fall about the need to raise money and plans on emphasizing that again.
"We still have programs operating in a deficit," he said. "We want to raise money before teams are cut, not after they are cut."
UND will be down to 17 sports in the fall—14 is the minimum for FCS schools like UND.