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North Dakota State has won nine of the last eleven national championships.

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Photo provided by NDSU

North Dakota State has won nine of the last eleven national championships. This fall, the Herd begin the season as the consensus No. 1 team in the country and are favorites to return to Frisco this January for a shot at their tenth FCS title, all coming since 2011. With James Madison bolting to FBS—joining former FCS stalwarts like Georgia Southern and Appalachian State—there are in reality only a handful of teams even capable of challenging the Herd year-in and year-out. To borrow shorthand from the political world, the Bison are FINOs, that is, FCS-in-name-only. How many FCS programs have three players on the Reese’s Senior Bowl watch list. Or, how many schools in the league formerly known as I-AA are annually sending players taken in the NFL Draft. The only FCS school you’re going to see appearing on the yearly Top 20 lists of best places to tailgate in college football is the Fargodome, conveniently located literally across the street from Hector International Airport.  


Finally, as if you needed any more convincing, the Nodak Insurance Football Performance Complex towering stories above north Fargo is the sort of practice facility and football complex you find at Power 5 programs. No joke. That isn’t hyperbole. The new home of NDSU Football rivals anything you’ll find in the Big Ten or Big 12. It’s NDSU and the rest of field lagging far, far behind. Even South Dakota State. The next closest thing left to NDSU in the subdivision has never played in Frisco in a normal season. Maybe with all the other FCS powers leaving the subdivision, the Jackrabbits actually have a shot this year. For the record, I’m picking NDSU vs. SDSU in north Dallas to play for the Dakota Marker and national championship trophy. Best get used to that. Montana, often mentioned as one of the premier schools in the FCS, has not played in a title game since 2009. While 24 teams make the FCS playoffs, the Road to Frisco has grown considerably one dimensional with the former upper echelon of the league bolting for the greener pastures—and TV money—of the FBS. 

Mark Twain allegedly once said, “History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme.” While not apples-to-apples, the state of affairs in the FCS has considerable parallels to the demise of Division II in the early to mid-1990s. The Bison have far much more in common with their FBS brethren than they do with the rest of the FCS.  That’s not a knock on the FCS.  It’s the very real world we live in. In the 1986 Division II national championship game, the Herd trounced the University of South Dakota 27–7 at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Alabama. Following the game, in a bit of Nostradamus-like foreshadowing, USD head coach Dave Triplett said what’s on the minds of most FCS coaches nowadays. “I wish to hell they would get out of Division II,” said Triplett, when asked about the Herd. “They can go wherever they want.” Like Twain said, history may not repeat itself, but it surely does rhyme.  

NDSU is stuck behind a rock and a harder rock. It’s great winning championships, absolutely.  The Bison have built an absolutely nationally recognized juggernaut, and it’s only getting stronger. As for the fan base?  The idea of destination games at US Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis, the teased game at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., home of the Tennessee Titans, and the annual pilgrimage to Frisco are what we’re left holding onto. The idea of playing the USDs, Drakes, and Youngstown State’s of the world just aren’t that appealing. To their credit, NDSU is pulling out all the proverbial stops to try to re-engage an increasingly disengaged fan base at the Fargodome. Even with beer at games, giving away TVs or other promotional items, and jazzing up the graphics and video displays, it won’t change the team standing on the opposing sideline. Missouri State is not UNLV.  Indiana State and Illinois State are not Boise State or Fresno State, or even Wyoming. You want to get the Dome rocking ala circa 2013? You want Bison tickets to become the hottest items between Minneapolis and Seattle like a decade ago?  You want the stands not to empty at halftime to fill places like Herd & Horns or Chubs. The answer is staring us all right in the face. Get a weekly foe from the Mountain West to town.    

The administration at NDSU knows this. If the call came tomorrow from Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson and they were rolling out the red carpet for the green and gold, champagne corks would be popping in not just Fargo, but in places like Brookings, South Dakota and Missoula, Montana at the news of the Bison joining Georgia Southern and James Madison in the FBS.  Until then, save my seat at Herd & Horns for the second half, fellas, because four score games at halftime are, to borrow another Twain quote, like eating the frog.  Everybody up for the kickoff, the march is on!  

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Published eight times a year, Bison Illustrated provides a behind-the-scenes look at the Bison community in order to help promote the university’s players, coaches, alumni, supporters, staff and fans.


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