FARGO — In a time of some non-revenue sports getting cut at NCAA Division I schools across the country, North Dakota State is going the other way with its track and field program. The Bison are investing in it.
The North Dakota Legislature’s Budget Section on Thursday gave approval for a $5 million renovation of the Ellig Sports Complex to be paid for by private funds. It passed unanimously without discussion.
The fact the project came before the Legislature in a time of a pandemic is more of a coincidence, said NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen. That said, it’s still a sign NDSU has no interest in letting the success of the men’s and women’s programs slide because of facilities.
“We’ve been working on it for a while because it’s a priority,” Larsen said. “Our stance at NDSU has always been if we’re going to sponsor a program, let’s try to sponsor it at the highest level in terms of facilities and resources. This one is in dire need so we’re excited to be able to move forward with it.”
The original Schlanser Track was completed in 1997, part of a $2.3 million project that included softball and soccer. The 400-meter Pro-Turf track surface was considered state-of-the-art at the time for an outdoor venue.
The new surface has yet to be determined but there will be more to the project than just running lanes. With the soccer program that formerly played in the infield at Ellig now at Dacotah Field, the plan calls for moving the throwing events into that space.
“It’s going to be spectator-friendly,” said Bison women’s head coach Stevie Keller.
Larsen said the hope is to break ground in the spring of 2021 so it will be completed in time when NDSU is scheduled to host the Summit League Outdoor Track & Field Championships in the spring of 2022. Since joining the conference in 2008, the Bison women have won every outdoor title and the NDSU men have won 11 crowns missing only in 2009. The meet was canceled this spring.
The fundraising group includes recently retired head men’s coach Don Larson, who said completing the outdoor project was a priority of his even with his coaching shoes behind him.
“He’s been intimately involved in this,” Larsen said.
Keller said the current surface, albeit in decent shape considering it’s 23 years old in a northern climate, isn’t conducive to full-time practice much less hosting a high-caliber meet.
“We’re going to put together a facility and track that will be one of the best in the region,” Keller said.
The softball program recently completed a major transformation of its stadium from a middle-of-the-road look to one of the top Division I mid-major fields in the country. An indoor hitting facility is still on the project table.
“For years I would look at how we had a way nicer facility and now it’s the opposite,” Keller said. “This is something that will tie Ellig into a really nice softball and track facility.”
NDSU’s biggest athletic project on the drawing table, the indoor football facility, still has some fundraising to do before starting detailed construction documents. The pandemic shutdown caused a fundraising slowdown, but it's starting to pick up again, Larsen said.
“We had some good momentum going through the months of December and January,” he said. “So we’re trying to gain some momentum back and close that last gap to get that thing up and running as well.”