FRISCO, Texas — When Frisco hosted its first NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision national title game in 2011, one challenge for the host conference was to explain to the outside what the north Dallas suburb was all about.
Ten seasons later, the game has become a Frisco fixture and is being televised on network television.
"We still had to explain who we were," said Southland Conference commissioner Tom Burnett, whose conference is the current host for the FCS title game. "That we were in Texas, we weren't the city by the bay. That we were capable of doing some of these things."
North Dakota State (15-0) plays James Madison (14-1) at 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, at Toyota Stadium as Frisco is hosting the game for a 10th consecutive season. The Bison are set to play in the title game for the eighth time during that span.
Saturday's game is being televised on WDAY-TV (ABC).
"The North Dakota State fan base, no question, you have to give them so much credit on how this game has developed," Burnett said. "This game is not just talked about in Frisco, it's talked about everywhere. I will go to the CFP (College Football Playoff) meetings on Sunday in New Orleans and they'll all be talking about this game. Now, it's on network, over-the-air television."
The first time Frisco hosted the title game was Jan. 7, 2011, to decide the national champion for 2010 season. Eastern Washington rallied for a 20-19 victory against Delaware in that game before 13,027 fans.
For that first game, Burnett had to sit through hours of Secret Service meetings because then-Vice President Joe Biden, a Delaware graduate, was attending the game. There were snipers positioned on the roof of the stadium.
"It was never expected," Burnett said. "It was a different level of stress that was very separate from the game. We knew the game would be fine, but everything else was kind of crazy."
The Bison first played in the championship game on Jan. 7, 2012, against Sam Houston State. NDSU earned a 17-6 victory against the Bearkats for the 2011 season championship in front of 20,586 fans. That was the first of seven FCS titles for the Bison.
Burnett said the game started to change the next season.
"It was the third year where the North Dakota State fan base got ahead of things," Burnett said. "They bought up the hotel rooms, they bought all the tickets up when they went on sale 'locally' here in Frisco and they were on top of that. That's when it changed."
The game has drawn 168,895 fans over its previous nine times in Frisco, an average of 18,766 fans per game. In the seven times NDSU has played, the game's attendance had averaged 20,206 fans. In the two games that didn't involve the Bison, that average attendance was 13,725.
"I think it's fair to say it's surpassed (expectations), I knew it could be good," Burnett said. "I don't know that we went into this thinking we're going to sell out our stadium. It's still a good-sized stadium, that's not easy to do."
Chattanooga, Tenn., hosted the FCS title game for 13 seasons before it was moved to Frisco. Frisco is set to host the championship game for the next five seasons with an option for a sixth.
"There was a lot of pressure I think early on," Burnett said. "I kind of had an idea of what this game was, I had been to a few games in Chattanooga. I knew what we were capable of here, I knew what was happening in Frisco. ... Just getting past that first game was a huge development for us. What I've taken a lot of pride in, is really how in some way the NCAA has taken a little bit more ownership in this game."
The area boomed since NDSU first qualified for the title game. This is the fifth time the Bison have made the championship game with Matt Larsen as athletic director. Larsen also attended the first two title games that Frisco hosted.
"Having been so many times it would start to look familiar, but because there is so much growth it changes so much," Larsen said. "What doesn't is just how much the community embraces our fan base. There is green and gold all over town here. ... The Southland Conference does an unbelievable job, the city of Frisco, they embrace it and I think that's the most important piece. The community has to embrace it and want it to be a great event."
Bison offensive coordinator Tyler Roehl has been an assistant for every trip the Bison have made to Frisco. The reception the team has received in Frisco from the community and NDSU fans that make the trip are things that have made the experience memorable for Roehl.
"To come back here and be part of this game is very special," Roehl said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Enjoy it. Don't take this for granted, this is really hard to do."
While Burnett is proud of the first 10 seasons, he said event organizers aren't going to rest on their laurels.
"We are going to do everything we can to roll out the red carpet, make them feel special and welcome," Burnett said of the teams that make the title game. "Even though NDSU has been here a lot, we don't want this experience to get stale, old, anything like that. We want them to really look forward to that every year."
Burnett is excited about Saturday's matchup between NDSU and James Madison.
"These are two big-time football teams and this is going to be a great show for the FCS," Burnett said.