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Schnepf: New NDSU AD Matt Larsen is Stony Brook’s loss, Bison’s gain

Fargo -- If Matt Larsen wasn't good enough to be the athletic director at Stony Brook, then why is he qualified to be the next athletic director at North Dakota State?...

Fargo - If Matt Larsen wasn’t good enough to be the athletic director at Stony Brook, then why is he qualified to be the next athletic director at North Dakota State?
It’s certainly a legitimate question after the 40-year-old Larsen - who spent the last 19 years working in the Stony Brook athletic department - was passed over when the Long Island-based school went outside to name its new athletic director last spring. Then Monday, he was named NDSU’s athletic director.
But for you Bison supporters who feel Gene Taylor is irreplaceable, don’t let this odd circumstance bother you too much. It sounds like Larsen is ready for what’s got to be one of the best athletic director jobs among mid-major schools.
“He’s definitely ready for that next step,” said Greg Logan, a Newsday college sports writer who covers Stony Brook athletics. “To be honest, I didn’t know he was looking anywhere. My first reaction when I heard he got hired was … that’s a loss for Stony Brook.”
Like NDSU, Stony Brook made the move from Division II to Division I. But unlike NDSU, Stony Brook’s athletic program has improved by leaps and bounds ever since moving up in the 1990s.
The football program has reached the FCS playoffs twice - losing a 2011 playoff game 34-27 to Sam Houston State, the same team NDSU beat for its first FCS national championship. It hasn’t reach NDSU’s level quite yet - judging by its 13-3 loss at North Dakota last Saturday.
Stony Brook is finishing up a $21 million renovation of its basketball arena. Its baseball team, believe it or not, advanced to the NCAA College World Series in 2012.
“It’s just night and day from what the program used to be,” Logan said. “And you can definitely say Matt was intimately involved in all of the decisions that led to that.”
His resume certainly impressed NDSU’s search committee and president Dean Bresciani. Logan called him one of the right-hand guys for former Stony Brook athletic director Jim Fiore. Larsen was kind of a jack of all trades - establishing short- and long-term goals for the department, helping the operating budget increase 40 percent in the last decade, overseeing $35 million worth of facility improvements and helping secure a $500,000 donation from former Minnesota Twins’ pitcher Joe Nathan.
“Matt has kept a low profile the whole time he has been here,” Logan said. “He’s very well respected in the community. He always comes across as a sharp, responsible, bright guy … an up-and-coming guy.
“It would be fair to give him a piece of the credit for the expansion and development of the athletic program when it was under Fiori.”
Fiori was fired as athletic director last November, following numerous claims of inappropriate behavior. Among the complaints were sexual harassment and retaliation, misappropriation of university resources and that he interrogated people about their sexuality.
Six months later, Stony Brook president Samuel Stanley handed the job to Shawn Heilbron, a fundraising expert at Oregon State and UCLA. He’s hoping Heilbron can beef up the football program –- so much that the school has even mentioned moving to the FBS level someday.
“That’s a long ways off,” Logan said. “They first have to achieve success at the FCS level. Football is not a hotbed here.”
But it is in Fargo - where Larsen, his wife and three children will be calling home soon. And if you are worried about an East Coaster taking over the Bison program, remember that Gene Taylor came from the Naval Academy in Maryland.
Taylor, of course, became the architect of the move from Division II to Division I. Larsen’s challenge - besides increasing fundraising - will be figuring out what level of football will be best suited for NDSU.
Some will tell him FBS is the way to go. Others will tell him to keep the Bison at that second tier of football - whatever that ends up being after the big-boy programs eventually decide what to do.
Sounds like Larsen has always been a good listener, and is ready to become a leader, according to Stony Brook athletic director Donna Woodruff.
“I’ve worked with Matt side-by-side for 10 years and you’re lucky to get this guy,” she said. “It’s not surprising at all that he would be leaving to sit in that type of chair.”

Schnepf is the sports editor for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by the Forum News Service.

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