Fargo

A strange thing happened on the way to another dismal season for the North Dakota State women's basketball program.

The needle moved.

This is good.

It is also bad, in this case.

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In the end, it might be the tipping point when the people who matter start asking how a once-marquee program became an invisible afterthought.

And hopefully, they'll decide to do something about it.

When WDAY-TV sports director Dom Izzo broke the news that Fargo Shanley graduate and former North Dakota "Miss Basketball" Sarah Jacobson was no longer with the program, the community's collective eyebrows perked up. When that news was followed by the revelation Jacobson was dismissed from the team by head coach Maren Walseth, it piqued even more curiosity.

These are not just feelings, they are facts.

Analytics showed readers devoured the Jacobson articles on The Forum's website by the thousands. The article about Jacobson's dismissal was the most-read story two consecutive days. This is significant because online articles about the Bison women's basketball team usually draw little interest.

Also, I received emails, instant messages and texts basically asking the same question: "What in the hell is going on?" Which is sort of funny because, folks, I haven't covered or attended a Bison women's basketball game in at least 10 years. I have never talked with Walseth. I have never asked athletic director Matt Larsen or president Dean Bresciani a single question about the program.

So I don't know what the hell is going on.

But the fact sports fans were reading the articles and sending messages tells us what we needed to know.

The needle moved.

It tells us there are still fans who care about Bison women's basketball, beyond the couple of hundred who show up for home games. This is good.

The bad is that it took a player leaving to shake people from their numbed state of apathy. A steep and long deterioration, going on 10 years or more now, wasn't enough. All those football national championships were an elixir.

Maybe Jacobson was the final straw, because she certainly wasn't the only player to depart the program in the last few years. Maybe a familiar name from a familiar family is what it took.

This spark of interest should be enough for the administration to begin to fix women's basketball at NDSU. Maybe the start is acknowledging it's broken, if that hasn't happened yet. Hell, maybe the start is caring that it's broken, if that isn't the case now.

Don't misunderstand: I'm not blaming the state of the program on Walseth. She's the coach so she obviously bears responsibility, but I cannot overstate my ignorance of the inner workings of the program. I don't know the details.

I'm not so sure they matter. There are clearly foundational problems with Bison women's basketball, given its lengthy descent. They need to be fixed, however Larsen and Bresciani see fit.

The key is the fire that's been generated by one player's departure. It's not an inferno, but it's heat. People still care and that's more than we knew a week ago. That should be enough to begin a rebuild in earnest.