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The University of Mary is ramping up its fundraising efforts with a newly named program -- Marauders Armada.

It syncs up well with a couple of significant recent scholarship changes by the NCAA that likely will benefit private schools like the University of Mary.

The most significant change comes in regards to what is known as "stacking." Previously, any academic money added to an athletic scholarship counted against the percentage allowable to a given sport. Now, academic scholarships will no longer count toward that percentage.

As a general rule, private schools cost more money to attend. To be competitive in recruiting, private schools needed to be able to pair more academic aid along with the athletic scholarship to try and offset the lower cost of a public school. However, that academic aid counted against the percentage allowed per sport. Starting in the current recruiting cycle, that rule no longer applies.

"This rule change is very friendly to private schools," University of Mary athletic director Dale Lennon said. "Basically, I think it's just a fairness thing where going forward it's going to be more of a level playing field when it comes to scholarship equivalency."

Another change is that now all Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) universities will be able to fully fund all of its sports as it relates to scholarships. The NCAA had already allowed this at the Division II level, but the NSIC had not.

Football, for example, will now be able to use the fully allotted 36 scholarships whereas previously NSIC teams were limited to 28.

There are Title IX implications with the changes, but Lennon is confident all programs at the University of Mary will be positively impacted by the new developments.

"We're putting the machinery in place so that our coaches have the best chance to be successful," Lennon said. "A big part of that is being competitive in recruiting for the best student-athletes. With the changes that have taken place at the NCAA level, and with the commitment our administration and our university is making, we're putting ourselves in the best position to do that."

That's where Tuesday's announcement of the Marauder Armada comes in. With an increase in scholarships, comes an increase in cost.

The new program's first-year goal is to raise $790,000. To do this, an 80-person Armada Cabinet has been established which will aid in fundraising efforts. Four major fundraisers -- one each season -- also will be held. The first is the inaugural Marauders Fest next month (June 21-23), which will feature former NFL head coach Casey "Gus" Bradley as the keynote speaker. Other events such as a foot-golf tournament, traditional golf tournament and a poker run also are planned.

"We're really focused on the Bismarck and Mandan communities with the first event," he said. "We just feel like there's a lot of untapped potential there with folks that maybe haven't been connected with the University of Mary, or haven't really thought a lot about it.

"North Dakota is such a sports-minded place, that's one of the big reasons I enjoy being here, and with all the great things going on in our community we want to connect with that and get people involved with Marauders athletics."

The Armada Cabinet members, meanwhile, are attempting to energize the growing number of U-Mary graduates.

"Twenty years ago we didn't really have an alumni base, now we do," Lennon said.

In their press release on Tuesday, the University of Mary referenced past alumni such as Tim Miles, the current head men's basketball coach at the University of Nebraska; Fox Sports North sideline reporter Marney Gellner; current Los Angeles Chargers assistant coach Marquice Williams; and current cross country and track and field star Lexi Zeis, a 12-time All-American and Bismarck High product.

Lennon, a former head football coach of the Marauders, University of North Dakota and Southern Illinois, believes the NCAA rule changes, combined with the new fundraising initiative, can set the Marauder athletic programs up for success similar to what they enjoyed during their heydays of the NAIA years.

"Back when I was coaching here, because of the aid we were able to give, we were able to give some pretty healthy offers," Lennon said. "I think with what we're doing now, and the commitment we're showing, the future of Marauders athletics is extremely bright."  

Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or david.selvig@bismarcktribune.com

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Sports Editor