Passing the puck
Former Athletics boss Brian Faison transitions to advisory role for new AD, old friend and onetime conference foe Bill Chaves
As Bill Chaves and Brian Faison stood in the UND High Performance Center the other day, just above the 300-meter track, it seemed as if a metaphor was in play.
“It feels a bit like Brian’s passing the baton,” Chaves remarked.
Instead, the former athletics director pulled out a puck. “When I first met Bill, he had so much knowledge about our hockey program,” Faison quipped.
They first met five years ago as athletic directors from opposing Big Sky programs; Chaves was still with Eastern Washington University.
“There’s no reason to think that would be the case,” he continued. “So every year I’ve brought him our year’s hockey puck.”
The puck he was holding was the first he exchanged with Chaves, who’s now at the helm as director of North Dakota Athletics.
Faison — who last October announced his retirement after 10 years of athletic leadership — has many reasons to be proud. During that tenure, he brought UND into Division I competition, helped create the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and led UND programs to multiple conference championships and a national championship in Men’s Hockey in 2016. Last year he was selected as the 2016-17 Under Armour Football Championship Athletics Director of the Year.
In addition, the growing academic success of student-athletes and the creation of facilities such as the High Performance Center show the impact Faison had as director.
From an advisory position, he is currently aiding Chaves’ transition. Providing history of the programs and community has been a common topic, but Faison says he’s helping wherever he can. It’s a job he sees soon finished.
Since arriving in January, it’s been an exciting time for the new athletics director – one of listening and acclimating.
“Brian has been incredibly supportive,” Chaves added. “Really everyone that I’ve met in the administration, Alumni Association and Foundation, as well as our coaching staff and student athletes – they’ve all been welcoming.”
New old rivals
After an award-winning 10 years at EWU, Chaves looks forward to establishing a presence in the Summit League. Starting this fall, all of UND’s programs – save football and hockey – will compete in the Midwestern conference.
He says the transition to the Summit reminds him of the North Central Conference (NCC), which UND left after moving to Division I and dissolved a year later in 2008.
North Dakota State University, University of South Dakota and South Dakota State University are also former NCC schools now in the Summit League.
“The reason why that conference broke up is because it was too good,” Chaves said. “To be able to get back to those regional rivalries down the I29 corridor is exciting. I’m old school in this sense, but I believe everything starts regionally.”
He went on to describe the regional rivalries he watched growing up in New England, and how those matchups build engagement and momentum for collegiate programs.
“When you have folks who are excited about a game and look forward to it all year, that’s where you start,” he explained. “If you can have conference success, with what we’re about to go into with the Summit, you have a shot at national success.”
Faison agrees that the potential is out there for North Dakota Athletics.
“You’ve already seen the possibilities with our performance in the Big Sky and they’ll continue,” he stated. “Playing regional rivals as conference games is huge. We’ve shown we’re up to it, and now we have to sustain and move forward.”
The outgoing athletics director looks forward to the time he and his wife will be able to spend with their grandchildren, as well as getting settled in their New Mexico home.
Though he’s said it before, Faison will miss the people of UND most. He lauded his staff, the Alumni Association & Foundation, coaches, students and fans for their support of North Dakota Athletics through thick and thin.
Regarding student-athletes, he said: “To do what they do and have the travel schedule, particularly within the Big Sky, and maintain the academic level – that says a lot, but it says a lot about our coaches too.
“And our fans… are you kidding me?!”
Chaves knows the expectations, and he’s looking to continue a winning tradition with UND.
“We want consistency,” he said, regarding the future. “We want to go in each year with a chance to win the conference. We have one sport that’s been Division I since it started; we have others that aren’t even teenagers yet. We’re going to grow and get to a level of sustainability.”