UND athletics leaders field questions at town hall

May 7—GRAND FORKS — UND athletics leaders fielded questions from the public Tuesday night at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in the first-of-a-kind town hall event.

The questions and comments were wide-ranging from airing of grievances about increased costs to tailgate at football games to wondering what UND is doing to keep up in the modern era of college athletics.

Athletic director Bill Chaves, deputy athletic director Erik Martinson and Ralph Engelstad Arena general manager Jody Hodgson answered the questions on the stage. UND's Paul Ralston emceed the event.

Jonathan Holth and Matt Bonzer, who operate UND's new Name, Image and Likeness Collective, also attended the event.

The athletics leaders didn't break any major news during the hour-long event.

But they did offer a few notable comments, which the school plans to air on social media in the coming weeks and months.

There were several questions to open the event about the increased prices for football tailgating.

Chaves and Martinson said because prices hadn't been increased in several years, many were renewing their spots, but not tailgating. They were just using them as premium parking spots.

They're hoping the increased costs will move out those who aren't participating in tailgating and just using those spaces to park.

Chaves was asked about the potential of bringing back baseball or women's hockey, which were both cut in the last 10 years.

"I think we're always looking at what's in your portfolio of sports," Chaves said. "At this minute, we have 17 (teams). We're at a really interesting time in Division-I athletics. Until we figure out what the next iteration is going to be, we probably have to be really thoughtful about what we're doing right now with student-athletes and support them the best we can.

"But you'd be crazy if you're not always thinking about what we could do down the road."

Hodgson was asked about the potential of changing the goal horn sound at The Ralph for men's hockey games.

He said he was open to a change if someone had any ideas of a sound that's unique to Grand Forks.

"If there's something that screams Grand Forks, I'd love to use it," Hodgson said. "I'd be open to the idea."

Chaves also was asked about the process that goes into extending contracts for coaches. He didn't speak on any specific coaches.

"Each situation is its own," Chaves said. "Each sport we have is on its own trajectory."

The leaders were asked what they're doing to keep athletes from transferring away.

Chaves said only about 30 of 360 UND athletes ended up in the portal this year.

"We didn't have zero transfers before (the portal era)," Chaves said. "We had some percentage. At the end of the day, the delta between what it was and what it is now is probably not as much as you might think."

Hodgson said UND is one of the only schools at its level that offers cost-of-attendance scholarships and Alston awards.

"Sometimes, I think we've got to toot our own horn a little more," he said. "We're pretty humble in this part of the world."

The atmosphere in The Betty for men's and women's basketball games also was a topic.

Martinson said he hopes they can have the band attend more games next season.

Hodgson said they're trying to engage a younger crowd.

"Sixty-eight percent of our season-ticket holders are 56 or older," he said. "We have to get more young people involved. We're trying to do some of that."

UND's TV partner, Midco Sports, laid off several notable full-time on-air talent and will use freelancers next season. Some voices may be the same. For example, Alex Heinert worked as a freelancer last season.

Martinson said UND does discuss on-air talent decisions with Midco.

"They'll provide us names and their thought processes on that," Martinson said. "We do have a say in who it's going to be. It's a mutual partnership."

Through the changes in college athletics, Chaves said he remains bullish.

"I think college athletics has never been more popular," he said. "Behind the curtain, it could be really difficult for many of us who have been in it for many, many years, but it's also exciting."