Bison football will play Central Arkansas after all this fall

North Dakota State head football coach Matt Entz speaks at a Zoom press conference on Monday, August 24, 2020, about the home game on Oct. 3 against Central Arkansas. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — North Dakota State will play Central Arkansas this fall after all. Just like the COVID-19 pandemic that has hit the country, NDSU's football schedule has been an up-and-down, whirlwind proposition for the last month.

For at least Oct. 3, it's on the up. That's when the Bison and Bears will play at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome at 2:30 p.m. which will be the first of three games between the schools that includes a 2023 game in Fargo and a 2025 matchup in Conway, Ark.

For the Bison players, it means a return to practice beginning on Sept. 1. They began fall camp on Aug. 7, but that was halted a week later when it appeared the Bison were not going to find any opponents for the fall. The Missouri Valley Football Conference has moved the league schedule to the spring.

"A lot of them were like, that's what we do at NDSU, we play football so let's get back to work and get going," Bison head coach Matt Entz said in gauging the reaction of his players. "A lot of them probably we're hoping things might change and it was good that we could make some decisions as a university and a football program. Up until this point, a lot of decisions were handed down to us."

The football eyes across the country will be on Bison quarterback Trey Lance. National college football writer Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports is calling it a "showcase game" for Lance and the NFL interest it's destined to draw. Bison athletic director Matt Larsen said NDSU is open to accommodating any NFL team that wants to be in attendance. Bison left tackle Dillon Radunz is also considered a potential high-round draft pick.


Thamel, in his story, reported NDSU's game "will become one of the most scrutinized college football games of the year. NFL scouts expect Lance to enter the conversation with Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields as one of the top quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL draft. Some have projected he could jump one or both of them."

The Bears will be getting a $100,000 guarantee from NDSU. They have eight games scheduled beginning with Austin Peay in the Guardian Credit FCS Kickoff in Montgomery, Ala., on Saturday night. UCA will turn around and play the following Thursday at FBS Alabama-Birmingham.

The Bears take on Missouri Valley Football Conference foe Missouri State on Sept. 26 and the Bison game would follow a week later. The Bears have two home-and-home series this fall with Missouri State and Eastern Kentucky. UCA, Stephen F. Austin (Texas) and Eastern Kentucky are the only FCS programs in the country that are playing as many games in the fall as it can and forgoing a spring season, with UCA saying a spring season followed by a fall season is not safe for its players.

Many details for NDSU will have to be ironed out in the coming weeks beginning with the dome and how many fans it will be able to accommodate with COVID-19 mandates. The North Dakota Health Department has released guidelines, but has no hard-and-fast rules to the capacity of a football game. NDSU said no tailgating will be allowed and fans will be required to wear masks at the game. Larsen expects to have answers to the safety protocols in about a week.

Season ticket holders will have until 4 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 4, to indicate their interest in the game through a survey form at Season ticket holders may request up to the number of tickets on their account.


NDSU and Central Arkansas have never played. UCA has won 35 games in the last four years with three FCS playoff appearances in that span. The Bison have won eight of the last nine FCS national titles.

"What a great opportunity for our program to get to play a team and a university like North Dakota State," said UCA head coach Nathan Brown said in a statement. "This has been a whirlwind with the way the season has happened and the decisions to not play by a lot of conferences and schools. One thing I do know is we were willing to play North Dakota State from the start and I am glad it is going to work out in the end."

The game will not count against eligibility of any Bison players. The NCAA determined last week that this season will not count against a player's four years.

"Everybody can play in this game," Entz said. "I anticipate every single player will be evaluated over the next 25 practices and we'll make sure to have the very best players on the sideline come Oct. 3."

North Dakota State Athletic Director Matt Larsen listens to head football coach Matt Entz talk about the home game against Central Arkansas as it is announced on Monday, August 24, 2020. David Samson / The Forum

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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