ND may prevent matching funds for college athletic scholarships

BISMARCK -- If a scholarship is set aside for an offensive lineman, can it really count as exclusively advancing academics? Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley thinks it can, as do other North Dakota officials who oversee a program matching private gifts for s...

BISMARCK - If a scholarship is set aside for an offensive lineman, can it really count as exclusively advancing academics?
Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley thinks it can, as do other North Dakota officials who oversee a program matching private gifts for scholarships with state money.
It’s an opinion many share on the campus of North Dakota State University, though there are some critics - including state lawmakers.
The House voted 76-16 last week to pass House Bill 1151, renewing the Higher Education Challenge Fund on the condition that funds are no longer available for athletic scholarships.
Rep. David Monson, R-Osnabrock, chairs the section of the appropriations committee that made the change and said his group was unanimous.
“We felt that the athletic scholarships were going to happen no matter what,” he said. This way, he said, donors have an incentive to create academic merit-based scholarships.
About $239,000 in state funds went toward eight endowed scholarships for athletes over the past two years, despite language in the previous law that said projects must be “dedicated exclusively to the advancement of academics.” Six of those scholarships were at NDSU.
Wrigley, who chairs the committee that approves projects, has consistently stood by that decision and said last week the new bill “acknowledges what we said all along, which is that (athletic scholarships are) in the statute now.”
As for the change to the fund approved by the House and still requiring a vote in the Senate, “you’d have to decide that you’re going to discriminate against student-athletes,” Wrigley said.
Monson said athletes could still apply for scholarships created by the Challenge Fund, provided they had the grades and scores to qualify.
If the Senate passes the bill as is, several other changes are in store for the grant, which gives $1 in state money for every $2 in private donations.
Facility repair projects and capital construction would be off the table, and the amount designated for NDSU and the University of North Dakota would be cut to $5 million each, down from twice that. The other nine colleges would again receive $1 million each.
Some legislators objected to the disproportionate cut to the state’s two research universities, but Monson said that makes up for a $9.5 million increase for scholarships in another bill and that the match is less vital for those universities.
“We know (NDSU and UND) have some substantial amounts in their foundations already,” he said. “The smaller colleges, obviously, don’t have as much ability to raise as much.”
Keith Bjerke, interim president of the NDSU Foundation, did not object to the change, calling the Challenge Fund a “visionary program” and saying in an email that “all support from the ND Legislature is greatly appreciated.”
UND spokesman Peter Johnson said the university did not typically comment on legislation, but that alumni and donors “greatly appreciate the opportunity to maximize their gifts through the Challenge Fund.”
Wrigley, though, said he planned to advocate for returning to the previous total of $29 million.
“If you take those $10 million out of the legislation, you take away $30 million for higher education in the state of North Dakota,” he said.
Over the past two years, the state’s $29 million has gone toward student scholarships, endowed chairs, capital construction projects with an education focus and academic equipment, Wrigley said.
About $239,000 from the pot went toward athletic scholarships - two each at Minot State and Dickinson State, and six at NDSU, one of which is for two students.
Wrigley has said athletic scholarships fit the grant’s mission because money still goes toward “tuition, fees and books.”
Academics are a side note, though, based on the criteria for the new athletic scholarships at NDSU - which will go to at least four football players, a basketball player and a softball player next year.
One of the scholarships gives preference to an athlete from Minnesota; another gives preference to an offensive lineman.
What the criteria don’t mention are courses of study, GPA or test scores. Only one mentions the word “academic,” and it is to say the student-athlete must be “in good academic standing by NCAA and University regulations.”
A memoranda of understanding associated with these NDSU scholarships using an open records request was made.
Other scholarships approved for NDSU through the grant are set aside for certain degree programs, such as agriculture, math, business and civil engineering, to name a few.
Most of their criteria, which are listed on the NDSU Development Foundation’s website, don’t mention test scores, but some include phrases such as “recipient must have a high scholastic ability, demonstrated leadership and good character.”
NDSU Faculty Senate President Birgit Pruess and student body President Sarah Russell say they have no problem with the Challenge Fund being applied to athletic scholarships, but others on campus question this use of the money.
“There’s nothing in those descriptions that talks about what the true nature of a scholar is, and I guess that’s what bothers me,” said Ann Burnett, director of women and gender studies at NDSU.
With the help of the matching grant, NDSU garnered a total of $450,000 for new athletic scholarships, and that also concerned some legislators.
“Trying to stretch the reasoning to include athletics, I’m not quite sure that that makes much sense,” said State Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck. “If it’s for academics, then it’s for academics. They’re entirely different things.”
At NDSU, these scholarships will count toward NCAA totals, said Colleen Heimstead, NDSU associate athletic director for compliance.
The university can give out 63 equivalency scholarships in football and gave out 58 this year, according to data obtained using an open records request. Those went to 82 students and cost $1.2 million.


What NDSU’s athletic scholarships under the Challenge Fund require

 The six athletic scholarships at North Dakota State University funded by the Higher Education Challenge Fund don’t have any academic requirements. In fact, only one even mentions the word. But they all specify which sport they should be used for. Plus, the students must be eligible under NCAA regulations and enrolled at NDSU. The endowed scholarships are $75,000 each, with $25,000 coming from the state.

Dr. Todd and Deborah DeBates Family Football Scholarship


  • Must be a member in good standing of the varsity football team
  • Preference to an athlete from Minnesota

Leo and Shirley Richard Family Football Scholarship

  • Preference to an offensive lineman
  • Preference to a player from North Dakota

Don and Sue Morton Family Football Scholarship

  • Must be in good academic standing by NCAA and University regulations
  • Must be competing on the varsity intercollegiate football team

Jay and Andy Alsop Family Athletics Scholarship

  • Must be a member in good standing of an intercollegiate athletics team
  • Must be a sophomore or above in status

Larry and A.J. Dahlstrom Athletic Scholarship

  • One scholarship to a football player 
  • One scholarship to a softball player
  • May be awarded to a previous recipient

Michael Vipond Athletics Scholarship

  • Must be a member in good standing of the varsity men’s or women’s basketball team in odd years and the men’s or women’s track team in even years beginning in 2015
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