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Forrest Karr will have immediate impact on Northern Michigan University sports

May 30, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

If fans of Northern Michigan University athletics expect new athletic director Forrest Karr to bring a few new video boards with him from Fairbanks for the Berry Events Center and Superior Dome, they're going to be quite disappointed.

Karr won't be adding any sports in his first week, either, so don't plan on watching softball or women's lacrosse in the dome as well next year.

As for building a brand-new basketball facility, putting a retractable roof on the Superior Dome and giving fans more leg room at the Berry Events Center, rumor is Karr will take care of all those things in his first 100 days.

Article Photos

Former University of Alaska Fairbanks Athletic Director Forrest Karr addresses a group of Northern?Michigan University supporters during a public presentation on his vision for the future of Wildcat?athletics in the Pioneer Rooms of the University Center on campus on April 10. Karr was announced today as the next athletic director at NMU. (Journal file photo by Matt?Keiser)

Just kidding, you'll probably need to wait 100-plus years for any of that to happen.

As Karr pointed out during his time with the media following his public presentation on April 10, major projects - specifically facilities - take time and money, with a little more time and a little more money on top of that.

Karr has more modest plans upon his arrival, but nonetheless important.

"The challenges I would want to address immediately are you have some teams that don't have their own locker rooms," Karr said in April. "If we're going to be about the student athletes and have a quality experience for all the student athletes, that's just a fundamental piece that needs to be addressed.

"The bigger projects, the facilities projects, those are longer term and will take planning and time to secure funding."

Of the three athletic director finalists to visit Northern in April, no one was more prepared, no one was more familiar and no one showed he was as ready as the now-former University of Alaska-Fairbanks athletic director to step in and make an immediate impact upon NMU.

Through the Central Collegiate Ski Association, Central Collegiate Hockey Association and now working with NMU on the transition to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, Karr enters Northern with a strong familiarity with the coaches and administrators at NMU, and the other schools NMU works with yearly in the Upper Peninsula, Michigan and the Midwest.

It not only gave him inside knowledge about the university, but a realistic one.

One issue that requires immediate attention is the lack of home meets for the women's swimming and diving teams in recent years.

In 2012-13, NMU is scheduled to hold a two-day home meet against GLIAC foe Hillsdale to open the season, followed by a home meet against Wisconsin-Eau Claire of NCAA Division III.

In 2011-12, the Wildcats had exactly zero meets against a team other than themselves.

That was a big problem for Karr, who made a point on two occasions - once with the public and again with the media - to bring attention to the issue.

"I think there are some teams that I just can't understand why in participating in a conference, the GLIAC conference, why there are no home swimming meets," Karr said. "Why can't we get the conference schools to commit the funds, the resources, the time, whatever it may be, to travel up to Marquette to compete? I think it's very important for our women swimmers to have home meets.

"I would focus on those things that aren't necessarily that expensive, but I think are important to have a quality experience."

Of course, NMU fans want more than home events. They want championships, and if Karr has his way, Sten Fjeldheim's Nordic ski teams will have a shot at something that is long overdue for the program - an NCAA team title.

As athletic director at UAF, Karr began to fight for separate team NCAA championships in alpine and nordic skiing. Currently the NCAA awards only one team title by combining the scores from the two disciplines.

NMU has a club alpine ski team, but Marquette Mountain does not meet the NCAA standards for NMU to raise it to the varsity level.

"I think that the student athletes here at Northern Michigan represent the university really well in nordic skiing and they should have the opportunity to compete for an NCAA championship," Karr said. "I don't see the two sports as really that related. One is a gravity sport, one is a hard-working uphill sport."

While Karr continues to fight for separate titles in nordic skiing, he'll also continue to help mold the new WCHA, only now he'll be wearing forest green and old gold.

That's a big win for head hockey coach Walt Kyle and the university's premier athletic program, even if Karr moves from the scheduling and postseason play committee - where UAF currently is slotted - to NMU's spot in the marketing and television committee.

While Sean Johnson and his experience with media would be valuable, the University of North Dakota associate athletic director would have lost valuable time playing catch up.

Instead, Kyle and the 'Cats get a knowledgeable voice representing them who also happens to be a former goaltender for Notre Dame, a former women's goaltending coach at the University of Wisconsin, a former graduate assistant coach for the U.S. National Team Development Program, a former member and chair of the NCAA ice hockey rules committee and a former chair of the CCHA management council.

Northern truly lucked out in wresting Karr away from Fairbanks, and I'm not saying that because he is a Wisconsin native and fan of the Green Bay Packers.

I'm saying that because he's the business and marketing mind that Northern needs in its athletic department who also has a rich background in college athletics as a player and coach.

Now, as former NMU President Les Wong said, it's up to NMU to give Karr the tools to make an impact.



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