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Rumours fly about Sanford Health sponsoring new NDSU arena

FARGO -- Sanford Health Arena. Does that have a nice ring to it, North Dakota State basketball fans?

There have been plenty of rumors flying around the metro area lately that Sanford Health, the Sioux Falls-based health care giant, has expressed interest in possible naming rights for a basketball arena to be built onto the Fargodome.

"I'm hearing the same rumors," says NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor, who emphasized he has had no discussions with Sanford officials. "I think people are making major assumptions."

As long as people are assuming, let's throw this theory out there: Sanford Health, based on its history of "community support," will eventually express interest in helping build a new basketball arena.

Mark Johnston, vice president of corporate communications for Sanford Health, said he is not aware of any talks going on with NDSU. When asked if such talks could occur in the future, he answered:

"We've got a long, long history of investing in our community," Johnston said. "Those things take a big community-wide effort.

"I'm not surprised, though, that those rumors are out there. We're all about community support. Sports is huge for Sanford."

Sanford is 71-year-old T. Denny Sanford, who made his fortune as owner of First Premier Bank and has a reported net worth of $2.5 billion. His $400 million gift helped create Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, the largest employer in a five-state region with 10,000 workers.

Sanford has already invested in Sioux Falls sports - like the Sanford Health Sports Complex at Sioux Falls College, a 3,000-seat football stadium with a 10-lane track and the Sanford Gym, a state-of-the-art practice facility for Augustana College basketball teams.

Sanford, who has said he wants to "die broke," could end up spending some of that money in Fargo - if the proposed merger with Sanford Health and MeritCare goes through, as expected.

"They are someone that is on our list," said Erv Inniger, the fundraising guru for NDSU athletics.

Because of the recent trying economic times, donors on Erv's list have not been willing to pony up $15 million - NDSU's share of an estimated $30 million - to a Fargodome arena project.

But a guy like Sanford might be willing. To make matters even more intriguing, Sanford's chief honcho in Sioux Falls has plenty of Fargo and NDSU ties.

Kelby Krabbenhoft, CEO of Sanford Health, grew up in Northwood, N.D., and attended college at Concordia. He is a cousin of the wife of Pat Simmers, NDSU's senior associate athletic director.

Krabbenhoft is also good friends with NDSU men's basketball coach Saul Phillips, who before coming to Fargo helped recruit Krabbenhoft's son, Joe, to play at Wisconsin.

Sanford Health Arena? Perhaps it's more than just a rumor.