The University of North Dakota is dropping its women’s hockey program, which began in 2002, as part of universitywide budget cuts and athletic department restructuring.
North Dakota’s program had eight players in the 2014 Olympics representing three countries, and the Fighting Hawks were a Western Collegiate Hockey Association rival of the Gophers.
A UND statement said it is also cutting men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and labeled its men’s golf program’s future “contingent upon fundraising.”
School President Mark Kennedy, a former Congressman in Minnesota, had announced in January that the athletics department would need to reduce its 2017-18 budget by over $1.3 million as its contribution to the cuts being dictated by the state’s revenue shortfall.
Kennedy said that he accepted athletic director Brian Faison’s cost-cutting plan “with the understanding that it provides for investing in championship teams in a balanced manner for both our women’s and men’s athletics programs.”
“My heart goes out to all those who are disrupted by this change,” he said. “We are proud of the way they have represented UND.”
The affected student-athletes can keep their scholarships, the school said.
Six of the players who were going to be on the 2017-18 UND women’s hockey team, including two incoming freshmen, are Minnesotans.
“It’s a sad day when opportunities for student-athletes are reduced,” Faison said. “We’ve had records every year in fundraising, we’ve had records in ticket sales, we’ve had records in sponsorships, but we still can’t get there.”
The UND men’s hockey team won the 2016 NCAA title and averaged a Division I-high of 11,505 fans this season. The women’s team averaged 808.
The cuts leave UND athletics with 17 or 18 programs, depending on whether the effort to save men’s golf succeeds.
“To have this happen with the growing success they were having and the Olympians they’ve had is just really unfortunate,” Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson said to the Grand Forks Herald. She and her twin sister, Monique Lamoureux-Morando, who both transferred to UND in 2010 after one season at Minnesota, were on the last U.S. Olympic team. They led the Fighting Hawks to the NCAA quarterfinals in 2012 and 2013.
“Today’s developments are excruciatingly sad for the University of North Dakota, the WCHA and the sport of women’s hockey,” WCHA Women’s Commissioner Katie Million said in a statement. “Our collective hearts ache for North Dakota’s current and incoming student-athletes, for the school’s alumnae and fans, for head coach Brian Idalski and his entire staff, and all involved with the program.
“The WCHA is the premier conference in women’s college hockey, and we are dedicated to ensuring it remains so.”
Million said the WCHA, now with seven teams, will evaluate options for next season and the future.