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Kevin Schnepf, Published September 28 2010

Schnepf: Extreme makeover hits BSA

When he was a Concordia Cobber basketball player pulling down 17 rebounds against North Dakota State, Kelby Krabbenhoft never got a standing ovation.

“The only one standing was my mom,” Krabbenhoft quipped Monday, standing in the same Bison Sports Arena where he played against NDSU more than two decades ago.

Well, Monday afternoon, Krabbenhoft got a standing ovation in the same building where somewhat appropriately, the hit TV show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” held a similar pep rally hours later.

Now the CEO and president of Sanford Health, Krabbenhoft announced a gift of

$10 million that will help renovate the 40-year-old BSA from being the “bone-chilling air hangar” it has become to the Taj Mahal of Summit League basketball arenas.

“Much like a football game, you do need a weather forecast for our games,” Bison basketball coach Saul Phillips joked … kind of. One would swear you could see Phillips’ breath while arguing an officials call as a January “Alberta Clipper” oozed into the BSA.

“I used to think it was pretty neat because of its size,” said Krabbenhoft, who grew up in Northwood, N.D. “But as time went on, it has turned into a big, old high school gym.”

Once this $32 million project is completed (which you can bet will be in less than three years), the Bison Sports Arena will not only lose its aging image but its name as well.

The new name? You guessed it. The Sanford Health Athletic Complex.

Sanford is 72-year-old T. Denny Sanford, who made his fortune as owner of First Premier Bank and has a reported new worth of $2.5 billion. He has often said he wants to die broke.

He just may reach that goal.

His $400 million gift created Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, S.D., – which has taken over for MeritCare in Fargo. Sanford Health has put its stamp on athletic departments at the University of South Dakota, Augustana and the University of Sioux Falls. University of North Dakota in Grand Forks is probably next.

Krabbenhoft will tell you it’s Sanford’s way of investing in the community. He will also tell you that he was very excited to announce the largest one-time donation in the NDSU Development Foundation’s history – especially because his father and brother are NDSU grads.

There are other connections.

Before Phillips came to NDSU, he was a Wisconsin assistant who helped recruit Krabbenhoft’s son Joe.

Perhaps the biggest connection is Pat Simmers, NDSU’s senior associate athletic director. It was Simmers who helped set up NDSU’s initial meeting with Krabbenhoft, who is a cousin to Simmers’ wife Susie.

It’s not what you know, but who you know. And Krabbenhoft knew Simmers used to wrestle for Bucky Maughan at NDSU.

“If I didn’t agree to a deal, I figured Pat was going to put a head lock on me,” Krabbenhoft joked.

Fundraising by fear? Hardly. About the only thing NDSU officials have to worry about is getting other donations finalized so they can get the go-ahead from the state legislature and the higher board of education. It appears they are close to the $25 million mark.

If Phillips had his way, construction would start today. Understandable. With a new BSA (oops, Sanford Health Athletic Complex), Phillips can actually show his recruits the locker rooms.

“President Bresciani, I do have a shovel in my car and I can start digging right now,” Phillips said during a press conference following Monday’s pep rally.

You can bet first-year President Dean L. Bresciani will make sure everything is in its proper order before any digging begins – unlike what his predecessor did with the controversial $2 million presidential palace.

Then again, that man – Joseph Chapman – was instrumental in NDSU’s move to Division I, often referring to the athletic department as the front porch of a university.

Phillips repeated that sentiment Monday.

“If athletics is a mirror to the university, then it’s time to clean the window up a little bit,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor

Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or at kschnepf@forumcomm.com