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AD search: Karr touches on new NMU sports, GLIAC, USOEC, CCSA in presentation

April 11, 2012 - Matt Wellens

Northern Michigan University brought in its first finalist on Tuesday for the open athletic director’s position — University of Alaska Fairbanks Athletic Director Forrest Karr.

The head of the Alaska Nanooks athletics department for the last seven years touched on a number of topics, and while not everything made the final cut for my main features the last three days, I wanted to hit on a number of newsworthy topics.

NMU AD finalist Karr sees potential financial growth for Wildcat athletics

Community service a highlight for NMU AD finalist Karr

Finalist Karr brought uniformity to Nanook name, identity

Expanding NMU’s sports portfolio

NMU President Les Wong has touched on this a number of times since coming to NMU and it’s been floated around here and there, but until Karr’s presentation Tuesday, it seemed like the idea of adding sports to NMU was always just random shots in the dark.

Karr detailed what sports would be smart additions for the Wildcats’ portfolio based on what is already popular in the GLIAC and the Upper Peninsula.

Title IX would also play a huge factor in what NMU could add.

For Karr, softball made the most sense with 12 of the 14 GLIAC schools sponsoring the sport. Lake Superior State has a softball team, but Michigan Tech does not.

According to Karr, the NCAA allows a maximum of 7.2 scholarships for softball and for that price, NMU could bring in 20 student-athletes.

“The way you want to look at it is how to allow the maximum number of students or a significant number of students to Northern Michigan, so you have to look at all the costs involved, whether it be coaching salaries, scholarships, travel, that sort of thing,” Karr said.

“I think women’s softball makes a lot of sense.”

The other sport Karr seemed serious about adding was men’s swimming and diving, because it would help strengthen the women’s swimming program.

Karr seemed to be pretty miffed that NMU failed to have a single home swimming meet this season. It’s something that should never happen to any sports team when it is a member of a conference and it has a home facility — NMU has no outdoor track facility, so it’s kinda tough for the women to host an event.

Of the GLIAC’s nine schools that sponsor swimming, only Hillsdale and NMU don’t sponsor men’s programs. For other cash strapped GLIAC schools, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to schedule a meet in Marquette that only the women can attend. It results in either then men taking a weekend off or increasing travel by sending the men one place and the women another.

“What I really want to fight for with the women’s swimming program is having home meets up here so the fans can really interact and cheer for their team,” Karr said. “It’s also important for the student athlete to not always go on the road.”

Other sports Karr brought up included tennis, which both MTU and LSSU have, and NMU once sponsored. Women’s lacrosse was also mentioned, though it is not sponsored by the GLIAC or found at MTU or LSSU.

Nordic skiing

Whether Karr becomes athletic director at Northern Michigan or remains in Fairbanks, he’s going to continue to fight the NCAA when it comes to injustices in Nordic skiing.

Karr would like to see the NCAA increase the number of slots for Central Collegiate Ski Association — both the Nanooks and Wildcats compete in this league — skiers in the NCAA championships. The league is a regular on the podium with schools such as UAF, NMU and Tech in the league.

Karr also wants the NCAA to award separate championships for Nordic and alpine skiing. As of now, the two disciplines are combined, leaving NMU out of contention for a NCAA championship in skiing despite its dominance in Nordic.

“I think we need to find a way so the conference receives more slots for the NCAA ski championships,” Karr said. “I never felt the way it’s currently done is necessarily fair to the Central Collegiate Ski Association member schools.

“I also want to keep working hard to get the NCAA to award separate NCAA championships in alpine and Nordic skiing. I think that the student athletes here at Northern Michigan represent the university really well in Nordic skiing and they should have the opportunity to compete for an NCAA championship. I don’t see the two sports as really that related. One is a gravity sport, one is a hard-working up-hill sport.”


If there is one thing Karr learned from last summer’s conference realignment saga in college hockey, it’s to always have an eye toward the future.

According to Karr, student-athletes should never have to worry about the stability of their sport and what league it will play in.

NCAA Division II is in a race to expand right now, and Karr said even the league UAF competes in — the Great Northwest Athletic Conference — is looking to expand, though it hasn’t had the luck the GLIAC and Northern Sun have.

Those two Midwest conference are pouncing on any school that has at least a ball — whether it be a dodgeball or something the neighborhood dog plays with — within a mile of campus.

(The above paragraph are my words, not his. Here are my thoughts on GLIAC expansion, now back to Karr)

The GLIAC is set to reach 16 full-time schools this fall with nine of those being public and seven private. Nine will be from Michigan and seven from Ohio.

Since 2008, of the five schools — Tiffin, added to the GLIAC, all are from Ohio, all are private and four of the five have enrollments less than 3,000 with Tiffin being near 7,000 students.

A sixth private Ohio School with an enrollment of less than 3,000 — Notre Dame College — is also an associate member.

Karr said all six could be potential targets for a new league called the Great Midwest Athletic Conference, which will being play in 2013 with six schools. Four are from Ohio, three of those Ohio schools are private and enrollment ranges from 800 students to 3,205.

Notre Dame College was set to be a part of this league, but then the mighty GLIAC threw it a bone and it bailed.

“I think it’s at least something to be aware of,” Karr said. “There are seven private Ohio schools in the GLIAC so those are schools that may align closely with the GMAC schools and they may go in that direction. Those are things you can never predict but you have to be aware of it as an athletic director.” Karr said the widening gap between big schools and large schools in the GLIAC isn’t the problem, but the widening gap in milage. From his perspective, travel is a real concern for a league that stretches from the Upper Peninsula to Ohio. Who is going to pay for those extra miles? How are students going to make up for that extra class time lost sitting on a bus?

Maybe now Karr is realizing why the NMU swimming and diving team can’t get a home meet.


Going back to providing athletes with a sense of security, Karr said it would be smart for the USOEC to enter into three-year agreements with national governing bodies in accordance with the three-year plans the United States Olympic Committee is requesting from each sport.

Karr also suggested NMU look into Paralympic sports to make up for the lost traditional teams, however, there is less funding from the USOC at that level.

Like the NCAA athletics teams, the USOEC can’t rely on public dollars. It must get corporate sponsorship and aid from the private sector.

Social networking

Karr was asked during the question and answer portion with fans about how to get students to more games. He said social networking was the key. It trumps all other mediums in Fairbanks.

“Students really find out about things through social networking,” Karr said. “That’s been amazing to me that we can put up flyers all over our campus about something like mascot tryouts or cheerleading tryouts or whatever it may be. We can put it on the radio. We can put it on our website, and we get almost nobody to show up. But if we put the same thing on Facebook or Twitter, tons of people come. That’s how the kids find out about things.”

Karr’s first goal on campus if hired

The community may not yet be realists, as some of their questions showed following Karr’s presentation Tuesday. But the next potential AD at NMU is.

That may not sit well with people who expect Karr or whoever the university hires to bring in a magic wand and fix all of NMU’s problems in a day. Yes, a new basketball facility would be awesome, as would a deal with ESPN to broadcast NMU hockey games, but those just are not going to happen, at least not in this decade.

There are things Karr can change right away, though, like getting every team a full-time assistant coach — cough, soccer, cough — and a home event that is not just an intrasquad exhibition.

“The challenges I would want to address immediately are you have some teams that don’t have their own locker rooms,” Karr said. “If we’re going to be about the student athletes and have a quality experience for all the student athletes, that’s just a fundamental piece that needs to be addressed. I think there are some teams that I just can’t understand why in participating in a conference, the GLIAC conference, why there are no home swimming meets. Why can’t we get the conference schools to commit the funds, the resources, the time, whatever it may be, to travel up to Marquette to compete? I think it’s very important for our women’s swimmers to have home meets. I would focus on those things that aren’t necessarily that expensive, but I think are important to have a quality experience. The bigger projects, the facilities projects, those are longer term and will take planning and time to secure funding.”

Why leave UAF, why chose NMU?

Karr said he sees a lot of potential moving forward with NMU having double the amount of scholarships UAF has, plus a large untapped business community.

Marquette would also be closer to home for the Wisconsin native.

Karr grew up just north of Madison, Wis., in DeForest and his parents still live in that part of the state on Lake Wisconsin, just south of Wisconsin Dells.

Karr and his wife, Cara, have a daugher, Callia, who is 2 years, 4 months.

His sister and brother-in-law have a 2-year-old son that live just south of the Wisconsin border in Illinois. His cousin who lives in Minneapolis has a 2-year-old daughter as well.

This holiday season, Karr came to the realization his daughter would never get the chance to really grown up with her cousins if they remained in Alaska.

“Basically around the holidays, seeing the kids together, it really made us think about how nice it would be for them to see each other more often,” Karr said. “It’s one of the main things. That’s the personal part of it. The professional part of it is I see a lot of potential there with the athletic department at Northern.”



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