Champions in the classroom, too

Armacost thanks backers of UND athletics, comments on importance of sports

UND President Andy Armacost thanked sponsors of UND athletics during a lunch at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Photo by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.

College athletics go beyond wins and losses and championships. They’re also about educating and developing future leaders who make a difference in their communities, their state and the nation, said University of North Dakota President Andy Armacost.

He made those remarks Wednesday before a group of business leaders from the greater Grand Forks area who sponsor and provide support to UND and its athletic programs. The lunch event at Ralph Engelstad Arena was held to thank the leaders for their support.

“The opportunities in sports are transformative for our student athletes,” Armacost said. “There’s no better way to prepare students than to put them on a competitive team.

Jennifer Stoner, associate professor in UND’s Nistler College of Business, discussed marketing in the post-COVID economy. Photo by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.

“The teamwork they build, the fellowship they learn and understand, their sense of grit and perseverance – all of the things about being on a team – translate perfectly to what they’re going to do later in life,” he continued. “There’s this element of becoming good citizens as a result of their participation in our competitive sports program.”

The group also heard from Jody Hodgson, Engelstad Arena general manager; Brad Berry, UND men’s hockey coach; Paul Sather, UND men’s basketball coach; and Jennifer Stoner, associate professor in the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration, who spoke on post-COVID marketing.

“I’m thrilled to be here today to thank each of you and to say thinks for your support of our athletic program, the teams and the spaces we compete in,” Armacost said. “Your support makes extraordinary things happen.”

UND men’s basketball coach Paul Sather briefed attendees on the upcoming basketball season. Photo by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.

Armacost noted that UND recently launched a program to encourage new faculty and staff to connect with local businesses.

“The partnership we have with our local businesses and each of you is something that’s essential to me as the president and to us as a University,” he said. “In addition to the great support you provide, we’re trying to return that support to you as well.”

Berry said UND’s hockey team for the upcoming season will bear little resemblance to last season’s veteran team that was one goal away from the NCAA Frozen Four. This season, the roster will include nine freshmen and a number of transfer players. The schedule will be difficult, but Berry is optimistic.

“You heard me say ‘culture’ a couple times, a word used strongly by leaders in our program that came much earlier than I did – Gino Gasparini, Dean Blais, Dave Hakstol,” he said. “Those guys came in to build that attitude and tradition to build that culture. We’re here to try to sustain that and keep adding to it and keep it going.”

Sather commended the University’s leadership for making the last athletics season possible, despite the difficult hurdles and challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What we got through last year and how it went for our teams on this campus was amazing,” he said. “We didn’t miss a game. A lot of teams missed five to nine games. We played every game on our schedule.

“What our leadership did to give our student athletes a chance to compete – the work they put in to find ways to make last season happen – was a big, big deal” Sather added. “We sure appreciate that work they put in.”

Armacost noted that having a COVID vaccine this year has been a useful tool, and he remains hopeful that the upcoming sports season will be exciting and rewarding for UND’s athletes and fans.

“We’re really happy to be out of the mode that we had last year and into a new mode,” he said. “We will be cautious, of course, but there’s great optimism. We’re keeping our eye on things just to make sure we keep everybody safe on campus.”

Stoner reported on how businesses can effectively target their marketing efforts in a post-COVID economy. She said brand loyalty has become less of a factor as a result of the pandemic. For example, Stoner said the toilet paper shortage helped consumers discover that their preference for a certain brand wasn’t as important as they previously thought.

“A lot of people were very loyal to one brand, but COVID disrupted that,” she explained. “Now people are willing to be loyal to two brands or maybe a subset of brands based on their knowledge.”

Making predictions about marketing trends can be difficult because as Stoner explained, “People are actually pretty bad at predicting their own behavior. Intentions are different from behavior.”

Brad Berry, UND men’s hockey coach, said the Fighting Hawks team will be young but hardworking. Photo by Patrick C. Miller.

Although many marketing experts predict a decline in discretionary spending as a result of the pandemic, Stoner isn’t so sure.

“I don’t know if I buy it,” she said. “I feel that if people have enough money to do something and the economy’s good, they’re going to go out and do it.”

Armacost told the group that he and his wife Kathy value their interactions with UND’s student athletes.

“They’re wonderful human beings,” he said. “Our student athletes are committed to success both on and off the field, on and off the ice. The coaches do an extraordinary job making sure they stress the academic success.”