FARGO — North Dakota State's football program wants to return to Minneapolis for another "destination" game, that much we know. When that will be, and against whom, is the tricky part.
When the Bison played Butler at Target Field in 2019, the game was seen as a resounding success. More than 35,000 fans nearly filled the Minnesota Twins' baseball park in downtown Minneapolis and Trey Lance made a splashy debut as the Bison's quarterback as NDSU rolled to a 57-10 victory on a perfect late August afternoon.
It was also a profitable day. Between ticket sales and merchandise, the cash NDSU made (upward of $600,000) helped make up for the lack of a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent paying the Bison a guarantee.
NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen and football coach Matt Entz have both said they want to return to Minneapolis to play again at either Target Field or U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings. Aside from a good payday, it's also good publicity in the nearest major market and a positive for the thousands of NDSU alumni who live in the Twin Cities area. It's also a good recruiting tool for Entz to pitch metro high school athletes.
Yep, party on 76% Nope, been there/done that 6% Get better opponent and I'd think about it 18%
Would you attend a Bison vs. St. Thomas football game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis?
Thank you for voting!
Yep, party on
Nope, been there/done that
Get better opponent and I'd think about it
I've been told the COVID-19 pandemic put a hold to any discussions NDSU was having about scheduling another Minneapolis game. The uncertainty of the pandemic made any long-term planning dicey.
But that doesn't stop logical predictions. And here is one, shared with my InForum colleague Jeff Kolpack:
The Bison will play St. Thomas at U.S. Bank Stadium in 2023.
St. Thomas is a St. Paul-based university currently playing in the NCAA Division III Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. It will begin its transition to Division I after the 2020-21 school year and be a member of the non-scholarship FCS Pioneer League. That's the same league in which Butler competes.
Again, to be clear, this is purely speculation. The last time I made a bold prediction about NDSU football — that there would be no spring Football Championship Subdivision season because COVID would force its cancellation — I was wrong, it appears. I might be wrong again.
But this much we know:
— NDSU has FBS guarantee games in 2022 (Arizona) and 2024 (Colorado), but no FBS game for 2023. The Bison have 10 games scheduled that year, including two non-conference games Sept. 9 (Maine) and Sept. 16 (Central Arkansas) at the Fargodome. One of the dates they still have open is the first weekend, Sept. 2. Perfect for scheduling a season-opener in Minneapolis.
— St. Thomas will be a transitional Division I school by 2023. It will need Division I games, and it will need guarantee games. Playing the Bison, while likely to be lopsided on the field like the Butler game was, would serve both purposes. St. Thomas would be amenable to such an offer from NDSU.
St. Thomas was scheduled to play archrival St. John's at U.S. Bank Stadium in 2020, but the game was cancelled because of the pandemic.
— St. Thomas will bring fans, helping NDSU's bottom line. Butler, a basketball-crazy school located in Indianapolis, brought almost no fans to Target Field. St. Thomas draws modestly to its home games, but with a large alumni base in the Twin Cities, the Tommies draw for special games. When St. Thomas played St. John's at Target Field in 2017, the game drew a crowd of 37,355. In a game between the teams in 2019 at Allianz Field, home of the Major Soccer League's Minnesota Loons, 19,508 turned out.
A game between the Bison and Tommies wouldn't sell out the 66,860-seat U.S. Bank Stadium, but it's realistic to think it would draw more than 40,000 and perhaps 45,000.
- NDSU is trying to come up with new experiences for its fan base. Gone are the Division II days when the NDSU vs. North Dakota game was the biggest game on the schedule. Bison fans have shown they'll travel during this FCS dynasty, whether it's to Frisco, Texas, or Minneapolis or Iowa City. Big Bison games are parties to which their fans road trip, and downtown Minneapolis is a perfect and easy road trip.
NDSU isn’t talking and a spokesman for U.S. Bank Stadium said management doesn't discuss with whom it is talking because of confidentiality agreements, but I say this with the confidence of a man who is not afraid to make bold predictions on a speculative blog:
NDSU vs. St. Thomas on Sept. 2, 2023, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.