NMU looks at adding more sports

Women's hockey, men's and women's tennis, alpine skiing and others all under consideration

MARQUETTE — Over the past few years, numerous universities and colleges across the country have eliminated certain men’s and women’s sports as a way to cut costs.

But four years ago, Northern Michigan University bucked that trend by adding four new teams to its lineup.

And now NMU is looking at adding even more.

In an email interview Wednesday, NMU athletic director Forrest Karr talked about how the university was looking into increasing the number of programs.

Sports in the running include men’s and women’s tennis, alpine skiing, men’s cross country, men’s track and field, and men’s and women’s rifle.

And another intriguing possibility is women’s hockey.

Men’s and women’s tennis is already in place in the Upper Peninsula at Michigan Tech, and the sport has proved popular at the high school level in this part of the U.P.

NMU already has women’s cross country and women’s track and field, so adding the complementary men’s programs could be a natural fit.

Alpine skiing would go along well with the Wildcats’ successful Nordic program, plus downhill skiing is quite popular around the area thanks to Marquette Mountain.

“We always plan for the future and think about ways to keep achieving success and continuously improve,” Karr said. “Our department strategic plan recently expired.

“We decided to work with a company called Strategic Edge Athletic Consulting to do a return-on-investment analysis, create a new strategic plan, and complete a feasibility study to look at the impact of adding potential sports.

“Nancy Mitchell and Kathy Turner from Strategic Edge visited Marquette from Sept. 9-11 to meet with stakeholders and gather information. We will be following up on that visit early next week with a survey to additional external stakeholders to collect more input.

“The Strategic Edge feasibility study is focused on women’s and men’s rifle, women’s and men’s alpine skiing, women’s and men’s tennis, as well as men’s cross country and track and field.”

Women’s hockey is also intriguing as men’s hockey is NMU’s highest profile program nationally.

With a Wildcats women’s team prospering at the club level, it might make sense to add it to the department, though it would require a lot more work.

NMU isn’t the only school looking into adding hockey as the University of Illinois and Oakland University are also researching the idea. However, neither has truly committed itself to doing so.

Northern is taking its time researching the women’s hockey concept and has brought in consultants this week.

“I was also aware that the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association had agreed to sponsor feasibility studies to explore establishing future NCAA Division I college hockey programs, so I contacted Kevin Westgarth (NHL Vice President) and Mike Snee (College Hockey Inc. Executive Director) to learn more about a women’s hockey feasibility study,” Karr said. “They were both enthusiastic about the possibility of helping to grow the game and they will both be here over the next couple days along with Katie Million (WCHA Women’s Commissioner) and several consultants to meet with stakeholders and collect information.”

Karr also said that all of the sports outlined previously are possibilities, but that the university is just trying to figure out the right way to consider them all.

“Any of the sports listed above may or may not be added,” he said. “Right now, our efforts are focused on responsible due diligence and seeking appropriate information from unbiased third parties, so decision makers can consider all of the pros and cons associated with each potential sport and the overall impact on the university and the surrounding community.”

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.