Somehow, North Dakota State's football team is too successful. It wins too much, by too much.
That's the only explanation for what's happening with attendance with the Bison football team, which hosts Illinois State in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals Saturday, Dec. 14, at 11 a.m. at the Fargodome.
As of Friday afternoon, the game is on track to draw fewer fans than the 15,690 who showed up last weekend to see NDSU defeat Nicholls State (La.) in a second-round game. That crowd was the smallest at the dome for a Bison game in 10 years.
NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen says there are about 14,000 tickets out for Saturday's game, meaning there are some 4,700 still available for online or ticket office purchase Friday and by walk-up Saturday morning.
This for a team that has been ranked No. 1 in the country all season, is 13-0, is trying to continue an FCS record 34-game winning streak, is in search of its eighth national championship in nine seasons and is led by an electric quarterback who has already been named the top freshman in FCS and might be voted as the best offensive player in the division.
Are you not entertained?
Last week, I laid out attendance figures for NDSU's regular season and postseason games since 2010. They indicated a trend that Bison football attendance was dropping slightly the last few years, that perhaps the days of occasionally drawing 19,000 to a homecoming game and regularly attracting more than 18,000 for playoff games — especially prior to the semifinals — were finished.
But I never envisioned fewer than 16,000 for a playoff game, even one in the second-round against a 28-point underdog.
Nor did I envision possibly drawing fewer than 15,000 for a quarterfinal game ... period.
What in the name of Jim Wacker is going on?
The only explanation, sadly, is boredom.
Yes, I know all the other factors that Bison fans are tossing around on social media as excuses. Farmers are still harvesting. There are high school sports going on. Games are too expensive. Every game is on TV and it's easier to watch from home. The Fargodome sucks. Attendance is down across college football. And, yes, I know student attendance has dropped dramatically at NDSU (and at other schools) for football games.
Some of those reasons carry weight and others do not.
High school games taking away from Bison attendance? No. High school sports have been played as long as NDSU's turned its football program into a Division I dynasty, and they didn't keep the dome from being filled for every game for seven years. That balloon doesn't float.
- McFeely: Drop in playoff attendance 'a little concerning' for NDSU
- Letter: If attendance is down, why not lower NDSU football ticket prices?
As for the Fargodome, I would invite any NDSU fan to travel to Macomb, Ill., or Terre Haute, Ind., — especially in late October or November — and watch a game in those stadiums. You'll get an idea just how good the dome is, even with its narrow concourses and relative lack of restrooms.
Does shelling out $30-$40 per ticket, plus other expenses, for a family of three or four get to be a bit much for what amounts to nine home games year every year? No doubt. Honestly, if I was a paying spectator I would likely skip a couple of regular-season all-but-assured blowout games (South Dakota, Western Illinois, Missouri State) to save a few bucks. But the playoffs? I'd be there, regardless of the opponent.
But even the cash excuse doesn't make sense for a quarterfinal game. In a metro with a population of almost 240,000, in the dead of winter, there's no reason why there aren't 18,700 people who wouldn't want to go to a Bison quarterfinal playoff game played indoors.
No reason, that is, except boredom.
Bison fans are bored with winning. After nine straight seasons of non-stop winning, often with little drama, NDSU football fans are saying they've had enough.
It is a remarkable thing to behold. NDSU has put together one of the great college football dynasties — heck, one of the great sports dynasties — in history, and fans are indicating they've seen enough. They're treating it like a movie they've seen one too many times and they're sick of knowing how it ends. They're tired of it.
NDSU has become a victim of its success with its own fan base. The Bison have been competing as a high Group of Five program for the last few seasons. They've just been better than every other program in FCS, often by a wide margin. What head coaches Craig Bohl started, Chris Klieman improved and Matt Entz took over has gotten so good that its fans are losing interest.
You can't make it up.
It's the epitome of entitlement. The fans who gobbled up tickets when this run started have become spoiled by success. And, judging by ticket sales the last two weeks, are willing to take it for granted.
There have been many things about which to write and talk since 2010, when the Bison first made the FCS playoffs and advanced to the quarterfinals. I never envisioned writing a column about ticket sales dropping sharply for playoff games because fans are bored with winning so often.
For somebody who sat through dozens of NDSU games through the Bob Babich era and early Bohl years when the Fargodome was like a mausoleum, it's slightly remarkable. Too much winning. Who knew such a thing existed?