Fargo

The 2009 North Dakota State football team will go down as one of the most miserable seasons in modern Bison history for more than just the 3-8 record. That team had a hard time staying off the police blotter and out of Craig Bohl’s doghouse.

The issues were constant. But what if the NCAA passed legislation allowing those players to benefit from their name, image, likeness in 2008 instead of this week? Would that have been incentive enough for players to behave?

The topic is fascinating in the potential for Bison players from this week forward.

“I would have liked to have gotten paid, that would have been nice,” said former Bison defensive end Derrek Tuszka, who was back for the Carson Wentz softball game. “Especially as a college kid not making much money anyways. With the amount of money this program can bring in and as much as these guys work, they deserve it.”

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Tuszka is entering his second year in the NFL with the Denver Broncos. He’s getting paid now.

That’s the question to ponder for Bison football in 2021. Who will get paid? Receiver Phoenix Sproles has something going with Game Face Training, an athletic performance company based in the Twin Cities. Will there be others? Will a Fargo company use a player to promote its brand?

The problem many of the NDSU players could run into is the program has never been built for individual glory. Defensive linemen rotate like hockey players. The quarterbacks don’t throw it 40 times a game. The running backs split the carries.

Even in the heyday of the Division II title run, carries by Bison running backs were divided between several players, making individual notoriety hard to come by. True, if name, image, likeness were around in the 1980s, Jeff Bentrim, Chad Stark and Mike Favor might have made some cash.

Put Tony Satter in that group, although Satter rarely touched the rock. When he did, he was lights out. Satter played in 38 career games with 430 total carries, a measly 11 per game. He only averaged 84 yards per game.

Even the Division I stars were never statistical marvels, with the exception of Trey Lance. Quarterback Brock Jensen played in 54 games with 1,124 passing attempts, which is only 20 per game. That’s not going to wow a bank president willing to shill thousands to have Jensen be a spokesman.

Easton Stick played in 55 games with 980 passing attempts, which is less than 18 per game. Does running for a first down on third-and-7 make CEOs pay attention? Lance is the only quarterback to win the Walter Payton Award that goes to the best offensive player in the FCS. Kyle Emanuel is the only Bison player to win the Buck Buchanan Award that goes to the best defensive player.

“We’ll see what happens,” Stick said of name, image, likeness. “I can imagine it will be a really cool opportunity for a lot of those guys in this community, where there is so much support constantly. I think it will be something good for the program.”

And then there are the receivers. The all-time leader in receptions per game is Kole Heckendorf with an average of just 4.1. It’s almost ironic that Sproles is the first apparent Bison to get a promotional deal since receivers in the Bison system spread the wealth. Rarely are they near the top in Missouri Valley Football Conference statistics.

Now comes the key for the new way of college football players doing business. Will stats matter more to them now that cash is involved?

Bison head coaches in the championship years were always complimentary of their team’s maturity level. Teams don’t reach Frisco, Texas, without veteran leadership that has command of the team.

Perhaps the most marketable players would have been the electric kick returners like Satter, Richard Lewis, Marcus Williams, Shamen Washington, Christian Watson and Ryan Smith. Add Marcus’ value of 21 interceptions, seven for touchdowns, and 603 interception return yards and that’s screaming marketability for name, image, likeness.

“It was mentioned, but it was not a top priority and wasn’t a topic we talked about,” Tuszka said. “But I’m sure the guys would definitely appreciate it and it would help financially so I would say it’s something that is important and they deserve.”

If name, image, likeness was a thing during Tuszka’s Bison career, perhaps he could have been a spokesman for Hector International Airport’s “Fly Fargo” campaign. He had his pilot’s license in college.

“I don’t know if they would have wanted me,” he said with a smile.