A strong plurality of North Dakota State football fans is content with the Bison dominating the Football Championship Subdivision and don't want the program to move up to the highest level of college football.
Interestingly, the group of North Dakotans that most heavily supports NDSU moving to the Football Bowl Subdivision is ... wait for it ... University of North Dakota hockey fans.
And, if you're looking to start a fun discussion on Twitter or at the local bar, here's another nugget: Among those who identify themselves as college sports fans in the state, NDSU football is significantly more popular than UND hockey.
Hey, Grand Forks, don't shoot the messenger.
All of these tantalizing tidbits come to us courtesy of a statewide poll done by DFM Research, a Twin Cities firm that's spent a significant amount of time in North Dakota in recent years doing surveys for political parties, campaigns and other organizations. DFM's owner, Dean Mitchell, sometimes includes light-hearted questions in his political polling just for fun.
Mitchell is a hardcore University of Minnesota football fan who follows NDSU, in part so he can poke Bison fans on Twitter (follow him at @DFMresearch). Apparently he hasn't gotten over the fact NDSU beat his beloved Gophers twice on the gridiron, embarrassing the U of M enough that it will never schedule the Bison again. Mitchell remains a good man, though, and was curious what North Dakotans thought of the Bison moving to FBS after winning eight of the last nine FCS national titles.
It's a question tossed around regularly as the Bison football dynasty keeps rolling: Should NDSU stay in FCS, where there is little left to conquer, or should it try to move up to FBS and face stiffer competition?
So in a political survey conducted Jan. 18-23 by landline and cellphone, Mitchell included some questions about NDSU, UND and where the Bison should roam. The poll included 500 North Dakotans with a margin of error of 4.4%, typical of statewide polling.
Of those who identified themselves as college sports fans generally or fans of NDSU or UND specifically (280 of the 500 surveyed), 36% said the Bison should stay at FCS while 30% said they should move to FBS. A surprising 29% said they don't care and 5% were unsure.
The rest of the story is more interesting.
Mitchell also asked the self-identified sports fans who their favorite team is, giving them five choices. NDSU football led the way with 41%, followed by UND hockey at 27%, the Minnesota Vikings at 18%, the Minnesota Twins at 8% and the Minnesota Timberwolves at 1%.
This allowed Mitchell to formulate how the fan bases of NDSU and UND felt about a Bison move to FBS. In the polling business, it's called crosstabs.
Turns out, 48% of the survey respondents who identified NDSU football as their favorite team want the Bison to stay FCS while 27% want them to move up to FBS. Again, a surprisingly high figure of 21% said they don't care.
UND hockey fans much more strongly support Bison football moving to FBS, with 40% of them saying NDSU should make the move while 22% say it should stay in FCS. Significantly, 37% say they don't care.
Of the 18 crosstabs Mitchell formulated based on gender, age, education, region, political party identification and favorite teams, only one other group supported a Bison move to FBS with a plurality. Residents of western cities (Bismarck, Mandan, Minot) said NDSU should move up by a margin of 41% to 34%.
Democrats surveyed favored FBS over FCS by a 34% to 25% margin, but a plurality of 42% said they don't care. Dems in North Dakota have bigger things about which to worry.
The poll is strictly water-cooler and social media grist because NDSU has shown no interest in moving to FBS, with school president Dean Bresciani and athletic director Matt Larsen saying FCS is the Bison's "sweet spot."
More important, no FBS conferences are known to be interested in NDSU. For the Bison to potentially make a move up, a higher-level conference would have to invite them to join and mid-major leagues like the Mountain West, Mid-American, Sun Belt, American Athletic and Conference USA have not come calling.
If they do, the Bison honchos might have to convince their fan base it's a good idea to pick up the phone. At least according to this survey.