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Tom Miller / Forum Communications Co. , Published September 18 2012

Miller: UND brass likely learned from NDSU

Grand Forks - When news came down Tuesday morning that four University of North Dakota hockey captains will be suspended for the regular-season opener due to a weekend team party, the public was quick to evoke the North Dakota-North Dakota State rivalry.

On the Internet and at the water cooler, the UND discipline was held in comparison to NDSU’s recent handling of a voter fraud charge among 10 Bison football players that has yet to yield a suspension or any disciplinary action.

The timing of the two incidents made the parallels easy to draw, even if the cases are vastly different in nature.

First, no one should spend too much time patting UND on the back for the handling of its discipline. After all, both universities were attempting to cover their backsides for wrongdoings of their spotlight sports.

But safe to say, UND picked up on a lesson or two from watching the crisis management – or mismanagement – unfold in Fargo.

Lesson No. 1 is transparency of punishment.

NDSU lost its public relations battle when it blamed the media for the drawn-out coverage and was tight-lipped about exactly how the matter would be dealt with internally.

Many North Dakotans, fairly or unfairly, wanted to know precisely how this punishment was doled out. To some, they were owed that much after two potential state measures were tabled by the alleged actions of these players. It was an issue so muddied that it forced NDSU President Dean Bresciani to send out a clarification of the punishment process.

That’s the aspect that’s not receiving enough attention in the release UND issued to the public. The focus has been on the one-game benching against Alaska-Anchorage in Fairbanks.

What’s really worth noting is the back end of the release in which UND athletic director Brian Faison lays out the rest of the punishment, a set of guidelines that are crucial after the PR fiasco at NDSU.

There, Faison said the program will be under probation under which any further violations by a team member could result in immediate reduction of scholarship, suspension from competition, or expulsion from the program.

He also says the team will have an implementation of a mandatory team community service program and a weekly team alcohol education program.

It’s the kind of transparency those who have been following the NDSU voter fraud coverage have been begging to see.

So when it comes to the public relations battle between these two universities, UND won this round – or maybe more accurately lost less.

Miller writes for the Grand Forks Herald