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MILLER: Emotions aside, UND's remaining programs are in better position

This won't be a popular opinion.

It might come off insensitive to those close to the women's hockey and swimming and diving programs. It could also look like I'm carrying water for the UND athletic department as it wades through a harsh backlash.

But, here goes the truth anyway: UND's remaining members of the athletic department are in a much better position to succeed after the cuts than they were before the cuts.

UND certainly doesn't deserve a cheerleading effort for how this was executed and how long it dragged out. The optics stink. The timing was botched. The dysfunction was high.

And that's not to mention the personal impact. Really good people had their lives uprooted Wednesday when the school announced it was cutting three athletic programs.

Young girls in Grand Forks have one less college hockey dream.

But, if it's at all possible to remove the emotional, human aspect of the cuts, we have to remember the business of college athletics.

And business is all about the bottom line.

When UND was supporting more than 20 programs, it wasn't a sustainable model at the Division I level.

Costs were rising and revenue wasn't good enough.

The result was improper coaching salaries in key sports like football and men's basketball. The result was duct-tape support of programs outside the spotlight. The result was embarrassing facilities like Apollo Park for softball and Bronson Field for soccer.

And that was all before oil and agriculture prices tanked and the State Legislature zapped a good chunk of funding from higher education.

A key piece of Wednesday's news was that UND didn't just cut the $1.3 million from its budget as requested from President Mark Kennedy, the total cut was estimated at $2.5 million.

Also, some of the lost scholarships will be re-invested into other programs—partly due to Title IX requirements and partly to due to Summit League requirements.

Maybe some of the deeper-than-required cut goes to pay a men's basketball coach that was the lowest paid in the entire NCAA Tournament field.

Maybe it goes to putting a fence on Bronson Field so the soccer team's home venue isn't just a patch of grass.

Maybe it goes to a scholarship for the men's tennis program that currently operates with zero scholarships.

The problem with UND's athletic department for a long time was that it was too big, so it thinly spread around the funding.

UND needed to narrow the focus. To me, the dilemma for years has been that UND could either be average at a bunch of sports or be good at fewer sports.

The public relations nightmare that has played out for more than a year isn't exactly how you would map out narrowing that athletic department focus, but at least there's a positive byproduct of all this mess.

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department since 2004. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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