Big decisions in WCHA, GLIAC await new NMU President Fritz Erickson

MARQUETTE – Northern Michigan University’s next president, Fritz Erickson, isn’t a former collegiate athletics coach.

He hasn’t overseen an athletic department, he hasn’t been part of any conference committees, nor has he served as a faculty athletic representative.

Erickson, who was Ferris State’s vice president and provost of academic affairs before being selected as NMU’s next president Tuesday, is an avid sports fan, though.

So much so, that men’s basketball head coach Bill Sall expects his former neighbor in Big Rapids to be a regular at Wildcat athletics starting in the fall, just like he was at FSU.

“He really enjoys all level of sports – college, high school and pro,” said Sall, who lived “kitty-corner” to Erickson when Sall was the head basketball coach as FSU. “He was at a lot of events.

“He thoroughly enjoyed coming to basketball games. You’d see him at hockey games, football games. He was an active participant in what was going on.

“I’m really excited to have him come here and be the next president of the university.”

Erickson has been at Ferris State since 2009. One initiative that stood out to Sall, who coached the Bulldogs from 2002-2013, was honoring faculty and staff at athletic events in order to have those outside the athletic department more involved at games.

While visiting Marquette and interviewing for the president position on April 8, Erickson voiced his support for college athletics, saying it’s a great way to bring the university and community together.

“I think athletics plays a very important role in the life at a university, not only for the student athletes, but for really, the entire community,” Erickson said.

“Athletics can be one of those things that really ties us together. The role of the president is to really promote that in every way possible.”

Erickson’s role as a voice for Wildcat athletics won’t end on campus, however.

As NMU President, Erickson will be asked to cast the Wildcats’ vote on key decisions in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Conference – home to nine NMU varsity programs – and in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association – home of the men’s hockey program.

In both leagues, it’s the university presidents who decide key matters such as broadcast rights, bylaws, finances and membership.

NMU Interim President David Haynes is the current chair of the GLIAC President’s Council, which is working on finalizing and implementing a strategic plan, updating the league’s constitution and bylaws, and eying a potential broadcast agreement.

In the WCHA, the President’s Council serves as the league’s Board of Directors and just recently hired Bill Robertson as the next league commissioner.

Robertson will be coming to Erickson and his colleagues looking for decisions about a new home for the league office and new streams of revenues.

Robertson also wants to tackle television rights for the league and ways to strengthen the WCHA championship tournament.

The new commissioner also threw out the idea of expansion as rumors swirl of another round of college hockey realignment which saw Northern and Ferris leave the now defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association for the WCHA.

“At our level, which is a multi-divisional institution in Division I and Division II, presidents play a key role in all of the major decisions that are made,” NMU athletic director Forrest Karr said. “A lot of people don’t know how much time they put into athletics.”

Of the four finalists for NMU President, Erickson didn’t have the intercollegiate pedigree that Dickinson State provost Cynthia Pemberton did as a former coach and administrator, or that of Wayne State law professor Robert Ackmerman, who has served on GLIAC committees and as the Warriors’ faculty athletic rep.

But what Erickson does possess is familiarity with both the GLIAC and WCHA, which Karr said will benefit the new president greatly in his first year.

“Fritz was an excellent choice,” Karr said.

“The fact that Fritz is from a peer institution within both conferences – the GLIAC and WCHA – I think it’s going to allow him to hit the ground running and do a great job.”