fightingsioux4life Posted August 31, 2013 Share Posted August 31, 2013 This is a long post, but I believe that these things must be said and must be said in public, in front of all our fans, so we can come to terms with one painful truth: These are dark days for the Fighting Sioux Empire. During my childhood years of the 1980’s, I watched Fighting Sioux hockey win 3 NCAA titles (1980, 1982 and 1987) and provide me with lots of great memories in the old Ralph Engelstad Arena (RIP old friend). During my college years of the 1990’s, I witnessed some of the greatest collegiate sports teams to ever grace our Grand Forks, ND campus. NCAA hockey titles in 1997 and 2000 and four WCHA titles (1997, 1998, 1999 and 2001). NCAA women’s basketball titles in 1997-1998-1999. Football teams that would lay the foundation for the 2001 NCAA title team that we still all remember with great fondness. But after that long-awaited football championship on December 8th, 2001, a series of setbacks took place that I believe still jinx us to this day: · The overtime loss to Boston College in the 2001 NCAA hockey title game · The overtime loss to Cal-Poly Pomona in the 2001 NCAA women’s basketball title game · The Men’s Basketball program losing to such powerhouse programs as U of Mary in Bismarck (in 2003, by 40 points), Sioux Falls College and Minot State · The loss to Grand Valley State in the 2003 NCAA football title game · The Women’s Basketball program underachieving in postseason play on an annual basis · The devastating football loss to Neb-Omaha (and our nemesis Pat Behrns) in the Alerus Center in October 2005 that ruined what was shaping up to be another national title team. I honestly think the program has never totally recovered from that meltdown in the 4th quarter I collectively define this tragic series of events as “Runner up U” syndrome. We became the program that served as stepping stones for other programs (Grand Valley State, Boston College) on their way to championships. That long-held standard of excellence that we took so much pride in slowly eroded; our fans got accustomed to falling short in the playoffs and that apathy took root. And then there are the institutional screw-ups: · The kowtowing to the management of Ralph Engelstad Arena, Inc. by the UND athletic department during the Roger Thomas era in the early years did no favors for the hockey program or any of our other teams. To this day, I cannot reconcile in my mind the athletic department being six figures in the red while REA was raking in the cash from alcohol, concession and merchandise sales. During its planning and construction phases, the new REA was promoted as being a cash cow for UND athletics and we were told that all revenues would go to UND to fund their athletic endeavors. The last time I checked, 2+2=5 only in George Orwell dystopian novels. While I believe our relationship with REA has improved greatly over the years, I also believe that damage was done to our programs during those early years. · The botched decision-making process on the Division I move by President Charles Kupchella and Athletic Director Roger Thomas that we are still paying for today. This shouldn’t surprise anyone since Kupchella barely tolerated the existence of intercollegiate athletics and Thomas (while a really nice guy and class act) was not the best AD that UND ever had · The hiring of Tom Buning as Athletic Director, which resulted in really bad football contract deals ($20,000 buyouts?) and a general degrading of morale within the walls of the athletic department · I also believe Buning deserves at least some of the blame for Dale Lennon leaving UND for Southern Illinois in December 2007, just as we were embarking on our Division I transition period. I honestly believe that Lennon got sick and tired of the lack of resources being allocated for the football program and wanted to go someplace where football wasn’t a red-headed stepchild to the fair-haired boy on campus (hockey). I think a little extra money might have kept him here. But we were just too cheap to come up with it. And the program really suffered as a result · Losing Lennon contributed to the ultimate disaster of the transition period; losing to Sioux Falls College (an NAIA program at the time) at home in 2009. And the fact that the game wasn’t even close made it even harder to swallow. This loss hurt the reputation of the program and really soured the fan base on the program. I believe it is, without question, the worst loss in program history. And I believe we still, to this day, haven’t totally recovered from it. Some might argue that dredging up all this sludge from the sea floor of sports history is a big, pointless waste of time. I disagree. I believe that all these events collectively impact the future and help define the boundaries our coaches and players must operate in. Despite Big Sky membership (which I am very excited about), despite having an indoor football arena (which is so important during October and November in North Dakota) and despite having a very nice (and homey) basketball arena in the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, our programs have yet to shake off the Division I transition growing pains. Men’s Basketball is showing some signs of life, but still hasn’t proven itself as a consistent winner. Women’s Basketball has really deteriorated to the point where a total rebuilding is in order. Football has potential this season, but I think people are still taking a “wait and see” attitude towards the program. As for hockey, Hakstol’s teams continue to win games and have some success in the postseason. But that old, hard fought and well-deserved tradition of winning the big games in March and April has taken somewhat of a beating during the past 13 years. I have heard every excuse in the book. The “hot goalie” excuse. The “one and done format” excuse. The “lucky bounces” excuse. The “Jerry York hasn’t retired yet” excuse. At some point, you run out of excuses and you have to face up to the fact that this program no longer wins the big games like it used to. And I believe that part of the problem is the $104 million Palace on the Prairie. Ever since the new REA opened in October 2001, our program has been stacked with NHL draft picks on an annual basis. But All-Star teams don’t always win championships. Teams with great chemistry and teamwork win championships more often. I think our program has become a quasi minor league team for blue chip players who are on their way to bigger and better things. The players we have now are more focused on their NHL careers (and the money that comes with it) than they are of winning national championships. Players that likely won’t make the NHL will focus on winning collegiate championships because that would be the pinnacle of their careers. At some point between the opening of this hockey palace and today, we have lost that focus on achieving that immortality that comes with winning championships at the highest level. Another problem is that our fans are spoiled having a palace like REA to watch games in. It becomes a place to “be seen” and to close out business deals. I honestly think some of the so-called “fans” at our home games don’t know the different between off-sides and icing. This makes not winning championships more tolerable. As long as we can go to REA on Friday and Saturday nights with our kids wearing jerseys that are two sizes too big for them, eat our extreme nachos and Bavarian almonds, drink our beer, hobnob with every VIP in Grand Forks and watch future NHL players on the ice, we are happy with having teams that post winning records every season, but fall short in March and April. I think this is a normal human reaction to circumstances like these and I am not bashing our fans for it. But I also feel it is unfortunate that the standard of excellence described by Cary Eades, "Greatness at North Dakota is measured in national championships" has faded away over the past 10 years or so. And I think that standard should apply to football as well. This in sharp contrast to what is happening in Imperial Cass County (specifically, on the campus of NDSU). While we wallow in the mire of bad administrative decisions and lowered expectations, NDSU has brought home back to back FCS titles, scored several wins over FBS programs and totally taken over the headlines and media coverage region-wide. With their prominent media mouthpieces KFGO 790 AM and KVLY Channel 11 talking Bison athletics 24/7/365 and UND relegated to the obsolete WDAY 970 AM and the still nascent Midco Sports Net, UND has become almost invisible regionally and nationally. We are “that other school in North Dakota”, which means we don’t even exist in some people’s minds. It’s all about Craig “Mr. Clean” Bohl, Saul Phillips and his “Slummit” League Men’s Basketball team and Scott “My Oh My” Miller with all his cute little comments (“There’s your dagger!”). Meanwhile, UND is known for half-full crowds at home football games and hockey games in a fancy, state-of-the-art arena where championships have taken a back seat to beer and bratwursts. Can the athletic department turn this around? Can we gain a foothold in the media and in the hearts and minds of people across the Dakotas and Minnesota once again? The answer to both questions is yes. We have great conference homes for our marquee sports (Big Sky, NCHC) and we have excellent facilities. However, I think Mr. Faison and Mr. Kelley (and those of us in the stands) need to start demanding and expecting excellence in both the classroom and on the court/field/ice. Without high expectations, greatness is impossible. For example, a 5-6 finish in football this season (with 7 of our games at home) would be unacceptable for a head coach that has been on the job since 2008 and who recently received a contract extension. I believe the men’s basketball team needs to show us something this season or it might be time for a change at the top of that program. I also believe that, sooner or later, the men’s hockey team will have to close the deal in March and April to maintain that hard-earned reputation as an elite program in NCAA hockey. Women’s basketball and hockey, I believe, deserve more time to get to that level. In conclusion, the recent demolition of the old REA (home of numerous championship teams) and the continued success of NDSU in football (and to a lesser extent men’s basketball) have crystallized in my mind just how far we’ve fallen from where we once were and just how difficult it will be to get back there. I really hope we can do it. Otherwise, we’ll be sitting around tables in coffee shops and bars ten years from now talking about the good old days of UND sports in the 1980’s and 90’s and how it will likely never be that way again. I don’t want that to happen. Do you? 3 Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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