Students clash over new sport teams

NW Staff

Athletic Director Forrest Karr spoke to the NMU Board of Trustees on Friday. (Kelly McCommons NW)
Athletic Director Forrest Karr spoke to the NMU Board of Trustees on Friday. (Kelly McCommons NW)

In its attempt to recruit more students amid declining enrollment, NMU is adding four new sports teams to the athletic department. Some students say they fear the new teams will end up costing them more in tuition.

“I don’t know where they’re going to get the money from,” junior construction major Trevor Pupor said. “With many of these teams, by the end of the season they’re down to the bottom of the budget, and it’s weird to think where this school’s even going to get more money for these additional sports with their travel and the things the teams are going to need.”

Senior athletic training major Tyler Veraghen shared Pupor’s concerns. “As a Division II school, I don’t think we should be concentrating on our Division II swimming athletes,” he said. “I fully support them, but I wouldn’t be in favor of raising our tuition toward our overall goal of education just to have a few more Division II programs here.”

The NMU board of trustees announced the approval of the additions at their meeting on Friday, Sept. 6, but did not address whether the new teams would require an increase in tuition. The four teams will include women’s golf and men’s swimming and diving, which will be added in the fall of 2015, along with men’s soccer and women’s lacrosse, which will be added in 2016. All four teams will play on the Division II level and will compete in the GLIAC.

Other universities have cut athletic programs in order to save money. In 2009, the University of Washington cut its swimming program to save the school $1.2 million. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology cut eight teams — Alpine skiing, competitive pistol, golf, wrestling and men’s and women’s ice hockey and gymnastics — as a way to trim $1.5 million from its athletic budget.

The NMU student body has dropped 9 percent since the fall of 2009 and administrators are under pressure to boost enrollment. NMU administrators defended the board’s decision.

“Increasing opportunities for young people is why we are here, and it’s exciting to be part of something so positive,” Forrest Karr, NMU athletic director, said. “Our coaches and staff will continue working hard to bring quality students to Marquette.”

Karr said the addition of the teams will address gender equity issues and enrollment and will generate net revenue for the university. The addition of the four teams is expected to bring in roughly 92 students to the university.

NMU President Fritz Erickson said he looked at the long-term financial cost and the facilities that would be needed to accommodate the new teams.

“This really uses many of our current resources to their fullest potential,” Erickson said. “This is an opportunity to add more students without a ton of extra costs.”

The four new programs will bring NMU’s varsity sports total to 17, with seven men’s teams and 10 women’s team. The  board of trustees meeting also discussed the possibility of adding an assistant sports information director to the department.

Some students applauded the addition of new sports teams. Sophomore golfer Hunter Mires said NMU is a great destination for college athletes. “NMU athletics are on the rise for every single team,” Mires said. “The department has great facilities from weightlifting rooms to the Superior Dome, which gives you a great chance to succeed.”

Senior microbiology major Emily Bourguignon said she thought more sports teams would attract more students. “Sports teams bring players in here from in-state as well as out-of-state so there will be a big variety, and these are exciting sports which people love to come out and watch.”

NMU had a men’s swimming and diving program from 1966-80, but then-university president John X. Jamrich was forced to slice several varsity sports programs, which included the swimming and diving program.

Current women’s swimming and diving head coach Heidi Voigt will serve as the head coach for both the men’s and women’s head coach when the program begins in 2015. Voigt has been the swimming and diving head coach for five seasons, and has led the Wildcats to three straight third-place finishes in the GLIAC.

Kyle Wittenbach, who has been the NMU men’s golf coach for the past two seasons, will serve as the women’s golf head coach in 2015. Wittenbach is a 2012 graduate of Ferris State University, where he was a member of the 2010 GLIAC championship golf team. Wittenbach said he looks forward to the task of coaching both men’s and women’s golf.

“Myself and the entire athletic department are excited to add women’s golf among the other sports,” Wittenbach said. “There’s certainly excitement and next year’s going to be a lot of fun getting everyone together once it’s all in place. We’re all really excited about creating another competitive team here at Northern Michigan.”

A national search will be held to fill the roles of the men’s soccer and women’s lacrosse teams before they begin in 2016.