Opinion: Prioritize Academics Over School Sports

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The Bismarck Tribune


Enthusiasm for sports often keeps alumni involved with their universities. If their teams are doing well, the pride in the schools swells. That's true in North Dakota, where football is prominent at North Dakota State University and men's hockey dominates at the University of North Dakota.

Unfortunately, not all sports pay their own way. UND, in the midst of budget cuts, has ordered a $1.3 million reduction in athletics. The school has decided to eliminate women's hockey along with men's and women's swimming. The men's golf team also could be cut.

UND athletic director Brian Faison expressed his frustration to the Forum News Service, saying, "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." Despite the records, it's difficult to find revenue sources.

While it's sad to see the programs cut, the Tribune Editorial Board believes academics come before athletics. The North Dakota University System has the responsibility of preparing students for a variety of careers. We have seen our graduates gain national prominence in business, politics, science and the arts. Some have gone on to have successful professional sports careers, but that number is small.

Students are focused on getting a degree and being a spectator at a sports event is a diversion from the task at hand. Universities prepare students for the rest of their lives. The state should put its resources into making sure the students get a quality education. Athletics shouldn't be allowed to drain these resources.

The women's hockey team is relatively new, being established in 2002. It's had success and eight UND players represented three countries in the 2014 Olympics. The school and state should be proud of the team. The swimming teams were excellent at the Division II level before moving to Division I athletics. The cuts leave UND with 17 or 18 programs, depending on the fate of the men's golf team.

Some students protested the cuts by hanging banners urging the school to cut administrative staff, not sports.

Last year, UND cut the equivalent of 123.8 full-time positions worth $21.8 million, according to the university. About nine of those were listed as executive, administrative and managerial, for a decrease of $2.78 million, the Forum News Service said.

No matter where you cut, it isn't easy. UND and the other schools in the state system need to make it a priority to maintain the quality of education offered and try to avoid tuition increases. If some sports programs have to go it's unfortunate, but necessary. The mainstay sports - football, basketball and hockey - should keep the alumni happy. In the meantime, we can continue to offer a quality education.

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April 5, 2017


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