(Note: This is the second in an occasional series of columns and blogs in which InForum's Mike McFeely will explore the possibility of North Dakota State's football team moving to the Football Bowl Subdivision.)
FARGO — After writing recently about North Dakota State needing to ready for a potential (and hopeful) move to the Football Bowl Subdivision, news Monday makes my point more urgent.
NDSU's administration, including president Dean Bresciani and athletic director Matt Larsen, have to begin taking the steps now for the Bison football team to be ready to pounce if an opportunity presents itself in an FBS conference.
Here's the impetus for the urgency: Multiple reports say Boise State, the top football program in the FBS Mountain West Conference, is working to join the American Athletic Conference as a football-only member.
If Boise State would make the move to the more prestigious AAC, it would leave the MWC with only 11 football programs — meaning there would be room for NDSU to make a move to the higher division.
The Idaho Press newspaper in Boise reported that "Boise State University engaged the American Athletic Conference earlier this fall about the possibility of its football team joining the league, according to newly released documents.
"Emails between Boise State senior associate athletic director and football chief of staff Brad Larrondo and then-athletic director Curt Apsey in August and September show the athletic department worked behind the scenes on a potential move."
The potential move, the Press reported, would be only for Boise State's football team. The other Broncos teams, presumably, would stay in the Mountain West.
"Boise State has not yet moved because it has failed to find a geographically-desirable conference as a home for its other sports. The AAC would accept Boise State as a football-only member. The league has been playing with 11 football teams since UConn left last year," CBS Sports reported. "Boise State had been in discussions with the American earlier this year about a move, sources tell CBS Sports. The talks heated up again this fall."
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This is, as I wrote in a previous column, the perfect scenario for NDSU. The Bison's other athletic programs are perfectly suited for the Dakotas centric Summit League and the school likely couldn't afford the millions of dollars it would take for all of its teams to travel in the Mountain West. But NDSU possibly could afford to just have its football team become a member of the MWC. It would be expensive, but not impossible with increase television and sponsorship revenue and the likely boost in donor fundraising.
The question, though, is how prepared is NDSU to make such a move — or even to let the MWC know it would be interested in joining the league if Boise State left. Bresciani and Larsen, when asked in recent years about a move to FBS, have provided the same answer: FCS is NDSU's "sweet spot."
They have indicated, however, that the Mountain West is one conference they'd listen to if it made an overture. That's because the MWC is a step up from the Midwest-based Mid-American Conference in terms of prestige and TV money.
The MWC would be a good fit for NDSU because there are a number of other land-grant institutions in the Colorado Springs-based league and the Bison would be competitive toward the top of the league immediately.
Current football members are Boise State, Air Force, Fresno State, Colorado State, Nevada, Nevada-Las Vegas, Utah State, Wyoming, San Diego State, Hawaii, San Jose State and New Mexico. Five are land-grant universities like NDSU, so it would fit the league profile even if its enrollment is significantly smaller than every school except Wyoming.
After dominating the Football Championship Subdivision for a decade, NDSU's football program needs a new challenge. It appears Boise State could leave the MWC, opening the door the Bison athletics department needs to make a move forward.
Bresciani and Larsen should be on the phone today asking MWC commissioner Craig Thompson what steps they need to take, just in case.
Readers can reach Forum columnist Mike McFeely at firstname.lastname@example.org or (701) 451-5655