Roger Thomas became athletic
director in 1999 after 13 seasons as UND’s head football
coach. Dimensions asked him to comment about recent developments
in Fighting Sioux athletics.
How are things going, Roger?
What an amazing time this has been in the Fighting Sioux
Athletic Department! It has been a period of growth and success
on many fronts. A constant has been the success of our student-athletes
in the classroom, achieving a 3.0 or higher grade point average
for 11 of the last 12 semesters. I will forever be amazed and
impressed as to how they achieve these excellent grades while
balancing the demands of practice, meetings, strength training,
travel, and games. Once again, several of our student-athletes
have recently been named to All-Conference and All-American Academic
teams. UND athletes have received 24 NCAA postgraduate scholarships
since 1979. Amazing! All of this activity happens while our teams
continue to compete, and win, at the national level.
Tell us about your new facilities.
With the addition of the Alerus Center and the Ralph
Engelstad Arena, several of our teams, as well as our fans, enjoy
some of the finest facilities in the nation. Our attendance numbers
for men’s hockey, football, and men’s and women’s
basketball are at or near the top in the nation. A new addition
to the west side of Engelstad Arena will soon house our women’s
volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball teams.
It will be home for all our volleyball games, and we will play
men’s and women’s basketball in both the new Betty
Engelstad Sioux Center and the Ralph Engelstad Arena.
is the new Betty Engelstad Sioux Center being funded?
The new sports center is being constructed through the
generosity of the Engelstad family trust in cooperation with the
UND Athletic Department. The costs are being covered by the receipts
from revenue generated by the success of the “Ralph.”
The “Betty” is named after Betty Engelstad and family,
whose continued interest in UND athletics puts UND on the cutting
edge of college sports.
Tell us about the new operating agreement.
A new agreement is in place that allows the Engelstad
family and UND to jointly manage and utilize the arenas. It allows
us to have the best of both worlds: the support of the University
and State of North Dakota, and the advantage of the business world
with the Engelstad team. The impact these world-class arenas have
had in our city and region is enormous. Having been at UND since
the mid-1980s, I never would have imagined our athletes, coaches,
and fans having the opportunities these facilities provide, the
economic impact they have created, and the quality of entertainment
events that our community has enjoyed. If you haven’t been
back to Grand Forks or on campus in some time, all I can say is
you really have to see it to believe it!
And the REA is hosting the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship
later this year?
Yes. The tournament begins on Dec. 25 and ends Jan. 5,
2005. It’s only the fourth time this particular event has
been held in the United States. The championship was held in Finland
last year. You may have heard that the American team (which had
three Fighting Sioux players on it) won the Gold Medal. The world’s
hockey eyes will be on Grand Forks during that tournament, and
literally people from across the globe will be on our campus.
The exposure, financial impact, and excitement is difficult to
imagine, but it will be great!
And we hear there is more coordination these days between
the Ralph and the Alerus Center.
You bet. We’ve just created a committee to find
ways for these great arenas to work together for the enjoyment
and profit of all. The arena managers and leaders of the Engelstad
and the Alerus are meeting on a regular basis to find avenues
where a cooperative effort will bring more exposure and success
to the buildings and their customers.
What’s new with the North Central Conference?
A challenge presented to UND has been the decision of North Dakota
State, South Dakota State, and the University of Northern Colorado
to leave the North Central Conference and pursue Division I athletics.
This most certainly changes the face of the NCC with which many
of us have been associated for years. The NCC will add the University
of Minnesota-Duluth and is looking for other teams who want to
join and compete in a conference that is still considered one
of the best in the nation. UND will remain Division II with Division
I men’s and women’s hockey, and continue to pursue
the goals of winning conference, regional and national championships.
With the development of facilities, staff, and finances, we feel
the University will be well-positioned to change levels of competition,
if such a move would be in the best interests of Fighting Sioux
What about the rivalry with NDSU in football and basketball?
One result of the conference changes is that several nationally
rated teams have been added to our schedule as we strive to bring
the best competition here for our fans. It is unfortunate NDSU
made the decision to leave Division II and our conference in order
to play other competition. I don’t know of one person in
our department who doesn’t want to play or coach in a game
against NDSU. But if games with them do not enhance our chances
to achieve our goals — competing for national championships
— they do not make sense for our program.
And the future?
We are so very excited. We have a chance to take our programs
to an even higher level and provide our fans and alumni with some
of the best Sioux athletic events ever. I am thrilled and honored
to be part of this great place. I invite Dimensions readers or
other UND friends to attend our games at home and away, or to
watch or listen to us on radio, television, or the Web. Sioux
Illustrated, a new magazine about UND sports, is also a great
way to learn more about our teams and players. Or go to our Web