Fargodome, NDSU close to finalizing plan on what Bison football games will look like this fall

North Dakota State's Michael Tutsie returns an interception against Montana State in last year's FCS semifinals before a packed Fargodome. The number of fans may look different this year. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — With football at North Dakota State moving forward — practice starts this Friday — the Fargodome is putting together a safety plan to address the COVID-19 pandemic and all the potential restrictions that could go with it.

A committee consisting of a combination of NDSU athletics and the city appear to be closing in on what a Bison game could look like this fall. Fargo Cass Public Health will also be part of the final revision.

“We have most of the framework done,” said Fargodome general manager Rob Sobolik.

The plan will encompass other events like a couple of scheduled trade shows and North Dakota high school state tournaments, if they are held.

The North Dakota Department of Health last Friday released the “Novel Coronavirus Recommendations for Sports,” which is a four-page document to address athletic events and the COVID-19 pandemic. With North Dakota in a “green phase” of the North Dakota Smart Restart plan, facilities can allow occupancy of up to 75% of their capacity, according to the document.


In the 18,700-seat Gate City Bank Field setup, that would mean crowds of around 14,000. But the recommendation also states events are not to exceed 500 people. It appears a most likely scenario would be a capacity of somewhere in the middle of those two figures.

“There are not currently any mandates or requirements in place, but we work closely with all kinds of entities to provide guidance and answer questions,” said Nicole Peske, chief communications officer for the North Dakota Department of Health.

NDSU’s first two home games, Sept. 12 against Drake University (Iowa) and Sept. 19 against North Carolina A&T, have been canceled because those the leagues of those two either axed nonconference games or a fall season altogether. The current home opener is Oct. 3 against Missouri Valley Football Conference foe Illinois State, but NDSU has said it is trying to fill the canceled dates.

Sobolik said he can’t say for certain football will be played in the dome this fall but it’s trending that way.

“I think that would be the general consensus,” he said, “but I have not seen any formal creed on that yet.”

Sports and fans in the thousands appear to be working across the street at Newman Outdoor Field. The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks have been operating at 50% capacity all summer with a maximum of about 2,200 fans. Multiple rows of seats have been closed and groups in the same row have been separated by two empty seats to create physical distancing in the stands.

Sobolik said he’s talked with RedHawks general manager Matt Rau on what has worked and what has been tweaked.

“That played a little role in how we’re planning and what we’re planning to do,” Sobolik said.


The state mandate suggests staggering rows and marking areas where fans can sit to help reduce crowding. It addresses entrance and exits to facilities. It also recommends adjusting ventilation systems to allow for high rates of air exchanges.

That’s an area where the dome has experience in dealing with the carbon monoxide from monster truck shows.

“We have the ability to change over the air in the building quite quickly,” Sobolik said.

The dome has eight large exhaust and return-air fans in the arena play another eight for the concourse. Costly upgrades over the years replaced belts and motors in the air handlers.

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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