Winter is over – late spring/early summer is here – and you might think to yourself that football is right around the corner. As a former resident of North Dakota (and always proud to say I am a North Dakotan, although I live in Virginia), it is time for the people of North Dakota to work for the greater good – and get that North Dakota State University (NDSU) and the University of North Dakota (UND) football series back to the gridiron!!!
Let’s get right to it: NDSU should not be playing Delaware State on September 21, 2013. Not when there is an in-state football team 75-80 miles to the north of Fargo in UND that has an FCS football program. It is ridiculous that NDSU set up a last minute deal scheduling the Fighting Hornets to play a game in Fargo at the cost of $200,000. The Fighting Hornets are a team that has zero chance to win or even compete in its football home, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The Fighting Hornets have made the FCS playoffs once in their institutional history. If I was a donor to NDSU athletics, I would be upset with a game like this on the schedule. And before anyone thinks I am a partisan (FWIW, I am not – I am a Mayville State undergraduate alumnus, attended UND for a semester – and have had family members attend both UND and NDSU. My uncle was offered a full-ride scholarship at NDSU, but injured his knee – FWIW, I’m also an alumnus of Virginia Tech and Georgetown), I’d say the same thing here about UND playing Valparaiso – that is equally bad. Establishing an NDSU – UND football series would alleviate this sort of horrific scheduling by both teams.
In March 2012, Dom Izzo, WDAY TV’s Sports Director, posted a theory at the Bison Media Blog about how NDSU and UND could resume a football series in 2013. You can see the details here. Izzo’s blog post was terrific. The short of it is that:
NDSU has an open date on September 14, 2013;
Due to quirks, Montana was scheduled to play UND in Grand Forks three times in a span of three years (e.g. 2012, 2013, and 2014). As UND joined the Big Sky Conference as members in 2012, the game with Montana in 2012 would be considered a conference game – and the 2013 game would be considered a non-conference game (based on a return road trip game as UND played at Montana in 2009). The 2013 game is also on September 14, 2013 – and Izzo’s theory was such that Montana would buy out that game in that they would not want to travel to Grand Forks for three years in a row.
In a later November 2012 Bison Media Blog post, Izzo expressed some concern that Montana’s off-the-field issues might preclude the Grizzlies from buying out that September 14, 2013 game (in other words, Montana is too busy trying to keep their own house in order) – he might be right – but someone could still make that buy-out could happen.
I have a proposal that might put the NDSU – UND football series on a fast track:
Establish a neutral site game for September 14, 2013 at Investors Group Field, the home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (in Winnipeg, Manitoba). Investors Group Field is currently going through some reconstruction – and will be one of the premier stadiums in the Canadian Football League (CFL) this summer (it will have a capacity of 40,000 for major events). It just so happens that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers CFL team is on the road at Edmonton that weekend. Playing college football in a foreign country could give the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) the sort of shake-up that it needs. Neutral site games are the wave of the future in every college sport – the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), NCAA Men’s Basketball, Men’s Lacrosse, Men’s Ice Hockey etc. Neutral site games have provided significant television revenue to FBS and men’s basketball teams – and the same can happen for FCS football.
Institutions are now receiving more money from television contracts than their revenues from home football games – and I see similar possibilities at the FCS level. Further, new cable sports networks, like NBC Sports (formerly Versus) and Fox Sports One are in need of more college sporting events for their television broadcast inventories. NBC Sports cable already has a television football contract with the Colonial Athletic Association, arguably the third best conference behind the Missouri Valley and the Big Sky Conferences, the homes of NDSU and UND Football, respectively. One of these networks would surely pickup a resumed NDSU – UND rivalry football game – and potentially a continued series (which could be home and home after the neutral site game). This could be the FCS-equivalent of the FBS Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic (it becomes a destination event).
While I understand that many North Dakotans would want a resumed series to be played in the Peace Garden State (and I would, too), a neutral site game would take away a lot of the perceived inequities that might exist for a one-time game to be played in 2013. For example, the largest venue in North Dakota is the Fargo Dome – but if you’re going to be fair with the proposed September 14, 2013 date, NDSU and UND would have to agree to split the gate proceeds – and would have to agree to provide the same number of tickets to each fan base. I find it hard to believe that NDSU would agree to provide the same number of tickets to the UND fan base on its home field – and equally share the game revenue with UND (and for what it’s worth, I think if the game were held at the Alerus Center, UND would not want to provide the same number of tickets to NDSU fans – and likewise, equally share game revenue with NDSU). NDSU and UND would also have to agree to a return game in Grand Forks with the same sorts of stipulations on seat availability and gate revenue. These should not be hard details to work out, but somehow, they are.
A neutral site game would guarantee equal game ticket allocations to the NDSU and UND fan bases (notice, I say allocations because what fans do with those tickets on the secondary market is generally outside of the institution’s control) – and could most certainly be negotiated such that the television revenue received from the game would meet (at the very minimum) or most likely exceed the revenue that NDSU and UND would receive from their normal game day proceeds. Further, the opportunity for NDSU and UND to play football in a foreign country on a national television would garner international and national exposure for the United States, the State of North Dakota, the NCAA, the Missouri Valley Conference, the Big Sky Conference, NDSU, and UND. This is exposure that money cannot buy. You can bet that you would get significant buy-in from both the Missouri Valley and Big Sky Conference commissioners for this sort of arrangement – and the City of Winnipeg would open its arms to both schools – because NDSU and UND fans are courteous, kind, travel well, and would spend their money freely in the city (this would be a situation where the Mayor of Winnipeg would likely give keys to the city to the Fargo and Grand Forks Mayors). If UND officials informed Montana that they wanted to get the series with NDSU back on the schedule, I have no doubt that the Grizzly faithful would easily push back the September 2013 return game to a later date (Montana plays Montana State every year – so they understand the importance of an in‑state rivalry) because it would enhance the profile of the Big Sky. Further, as I look at NDSU’s football schedule, I see open dates on September 7, 2013, and September 14, 2013. I see no reason why NDSU can say no to this – and scheduling the likes of a Delaware State (or another similar opponent) wouldn’t really be a worthwhile excuse.
My proposal would take leadership at the highest levels to make it happen. These following individuals would need to apply pressure make it happen:
Senator John Hoeven;
Senator Heidi Heitkamp;
Governor Jack Dalrymple;
Dean L. Bresciani (NDSU President) and Gene Taylor (NDSU Athletic Director); and
Robert O. Kelley (UND President) and Brian Faison (UND Athletic Director).
The majority of people in North Dakota want the NDSU – UND football series re‑established (only the real partisans would oppose a renewal of the series). My proposal would not only kick-start this football series, but would also provide a shot in the arm for FCS football.