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Bison to play at Scheels Arena for next 2 years

FARGO — As North Dakota State’s athletic department prepares to leave its home at the Bison Sports Arena, it announced Wednesday that the men’s basketball team will play its home games for the next two years off campus at Scheels Arena.

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NDSU and Scheels Arena announced a two-year agreement to play Bison men’s basketball games at the venue located in southwest Fargo, about 8½ miles from campus.

It’s one part of a major transition NDSU athletics will endure during the renovation of the Bison Sports Arena — which will be named Scheels Center at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex when completed in the fall of 2016.

“We’ve been talking for the last six to eight months about this,” NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor said, referring to discussions with officials from Scheels Arena. “We really appreciate their cooperation and willingness to work with us the next two years.”

Since it opened in 2008, Scheels Arena has been the home of the Fargo Force junior hockey team of the United States Hockey League, which plays its games from October until April. Scheels, with a seating capacity of 5,000, is also home to some Fargo high school hockey games and some youth hockey events.

Scheels Arena general manager Jon Kram said the NDSU men’s basketball home dates for the next two seasons are guaranteed. He said they have yet to finalize dates for games involving the Force, high schools and youth.

Kram said the North Dakota state high school hockey tournament scheduled to be at Scheels Feb. 26-28, 2015, will not be affected. Nor will the NCAA hockey regional scheduled in March.

“There will be challenges,” said Kram, who talked to officials of USHL teams in Green Bay, Wis., and Omaha who share their arenas with college basketball teams. “They make it work and we can make it work.”

The agreement calls for NDSU to pay $4,500 rent per game if attendance is 2,500 or less; $3,500 if attendance is 2,500 to 3,500; and $2,500 if attendance surpasses 3,500.

NDSU will get revenue from all ticket sales and 15 percent of the concession sales. Scheels Arena will get revenue from most of the suite sales and all of the parking revenue.

“It’s a fairly reasonable deal,” Taylor said.

With all Bison sports except for football having to relocate, Taylor estimates NDSU will spend $200,000 per year in lease payments. Relocations include:

- The athletic offices will move off campus to the former Gem Car building located north of 12th Avenue just west of I-29.

- Men’s basketball practices could be held off campus or on campus at Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse or the Wellness Center.

- Women’s basketball games and practices will be held at the Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse, home of the volleyball team. The Dec. 13 home game with North Dakota will be held at Scheels Arena as will games Jan. 2 and Jan. 4 as part of a Summit League doubleheader.

- Wrestling home matches will be held at Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse. Practices could be held off campus.

- Weight training, athletic training and the equipment room will be held off campus in one building.

“We’re negotiating with various facilities in town,” Taylor said. “The goal is to have everything finalized so we can have everything out of the Bison Sports Arena by June 1.

“The goal is finding what is the best situation we can create for our student-athletes. We know it won’t be perfect. The coaches have been phenomenal in terms of their patience and understanding. Their focus is the end result in two years.”

The end result will be the $41 million renovation that will include a 5,945-seat basketball arena with chairback seating, courtside seating and suites; a 14,500 square foot basketball practice facility; a 15,000 square foot performance training center; a 2,000 square foot Hall of Fame display plus new offices and locker rooms.

“It’s more than a blueprint, this is actually happening,” said Bison men’s basketball coach Dave Richman. “And that is something we can actually show our recruits now.

“There’s no doubt we will be under some challenging times for the next two years. But I think we have enough people in this department and in this community who will say ‘let’s just roll with this and make the best of it.’

“We all know we have an unbelievable facility coming on the back end of all this.”

Kevin Schnepf
Kevin Schnepf is the sports editor for The Forum. He has been working at The Forum since 1986.
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