The University of North Dakota is dropping its womenâs hockey program, which began in 2002, as part of universityÂwide budget cuts and athletic department restructuring.
North Dakotaâs 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 menâs and womenâs swimming and diving, and labeled its menâs golf programâs future âcontingent upon fundraising.â
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 stateâs revenue shortfall.
Kennedy said that he accepted athletic director Brian Faisonâs cost-cutting plan âwith the understanding that it provides for investing in championship teams in a balanced manner for both our womenâs and menâs athletics programs.â
âMy heart goes out to all those who are disrupted by this change,â he said. âWe are proud of the way they have represented UND.â
The affected student-Âathletes can keep their scholarships, the school said.
Six of the players who were going to be on the 2017-18 UND womenâs hockey team, including two incoming freshmen, are Minnesotans.
âItâs a sad day when opportunities for student-athletes are reduced,â Faison said. âWeâve had records every year in fundraising, weâve had records in ticket sales, weâve had records in sponsorships, but we still canât get there.â
The UND menâs hockey team won the 2016 NCAA title and averaged a Division I-high of 11,505 fans this season. The womenâs team averaged 808.
The cuts leave UND athletics with 17 or 18 programs, depending on whether the effort to save menâs golf succeeds.
âTo have this happen with the growing success they were having and the Olympians theyâve had is just really unfortunate,â 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.
âTodayâs developments are excruciatingly sad for the University of North Dakota, the WCHA and the sport of womenâs hockey,â WCHA Womenâs Commissioner Katie Million said in a statement. âOur collective hearts ache for North Dakotaâs current and incoming student-athletes, for the schoolâs alumnae and fans, for head coach Brian Idalski and his entire staff, and all involved with the program.
âThe WCHA is the premier conference in womenâs college hockey, and we are dedicated to ensuring it remains so.â
Million said the WCHA, now with seven teams, will evaluate options for next season and the future.