Kolpack: Not much is fair in COVID college football

North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance and the Bison were scheduled to open the regular season Sept. 5 at Oregon. That highly anticipated game won't happen but the Bison will play one game against Central Arkansas. David Samson / The Forum


The Chinese author Sun Tzu was born in 544 BC and was known more for his literary works about how to win a war. But there’s a part of him that could translate into being a sportswriter, even in 2020.

His greatest line of “every battle is won or lost before it’s ever fought” applies to modern college football, now more than ever. In the era of COVID-19, fairness is hard to find. Battles may be over before they start.

Take the University of Central Arkansas, which scheduled North Dakota State for an Oct. 3 game at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. It’s the lone fall game for the Bison, whose Missouri Valley Football Conference moved all of its league games to the spring.

It will be the fifth game for the Bears.


That’s four games of videotape NDSU will get to study while the best UCA can do is pull out the Bison playoff film from last year. Granted, the Bison don’t change much from year to year, but the details of football can never be understated.

NDSU has already started looking at the Bears, which isn’t unusual for a first game of the season. Bison coaches in the past start looking at a first-game opponent sometime during the summer anyway.

“Our staff will start game planning as soon as we have enough film broken down,” said NDSU head coach Matt Entz.

The Bears, meanwhile, are currently working on Austin Peay for Saturday’s season opener in the FCS Kickoff in Montgomery, Ala. Then they’ll have a few days to break down Alabama-Birmingham for a game the following Thursday night.

Then they’ll have to break down Arkansas State and Missouri State before getting to the videotape of NDSU.

Not much is fair in COVID football.

On the flipside for NDSU, I’m not sure how one college quarterback can have more put on his plate for four quarters of football this year than Trey Lance. The Bison game has already been labeled a “Trey Lance Showcase” by the national folks, as if to say the kid’s NFL career is hinging on 60 minutes against Central Arkansas.

Yes, he’s composed. Yes, he’s intelligent. Yes, he’s mobile and yes he has a strong arm. But he’s 20 years old with one years worth of starts under his belt. And yet every NFL team in need of a quarterback will be scrutinizing his every breath on Oct. 3.


That's the life of an NFL prospect. It’s maybe not fair, but that’s the deal when millions of dollars are involved.

Perhaps Lance could get some advice from former Bison quarterback Carson Wentz on how to handle it. Wentz in 2015 missed the last half of the regular season plus the first three FCS playoff games and there was some debate if he was even going to play in the national championship game against Jacksonville State, in essence a “Showcase Game” for his NFL potential.

Some thought Easton Stick should have been the starter regardless if Wentz was healed from his broken wrist. Forum columnist Mike McFeely practically took out a full-page ad promoting Stick for the start.

The calm, cool and collected beat writer thought Wentz deserved the shot and he led the Bison to a 37-10 victory. The next day, Wentz was off to California to train for the NFL and was the second overall draft pick by the Philadelphia Eagles. Wentz said earlier this month that he’s been in touch with Lance and plans on talking to him again.

To a lesser extent simply because he’s a left tackle and not throwing 20-yard out patterns, Bison senior Dillon Radunz will be under the NFL offensive line microscope, if he plays anyway. Radunz will have five weeks to decipher the every move of the Central Arkansas right defensive end. By Oct. 3, the Bison All-American will know the preferred chewing gum of the UCA guy and he’ll have as much chance of getting pressure on Lance as Entz, a former defensive lineman who would coming out of retirement.

Not much is fair in COVID college football.

And on that note, there are a few seniors who figured their career was done. For that, we revert to history although not as far back as Sun Tzu.

It was in 1985 when NDSU finished the regular season at 8-2-1 with not much hope of making the Division II playoffs. The coaches told the players to go home for Thanksgiving break with the Bison not playing in the last week of the season.


Ranked 18th nationally heading into its last game, NDSU needed a series of teams to lose to break into the top eight. Which is precisely what happened. The back door opened and the Bison went on to win the national title.

Although one regular season game, the graduating Bison seniors at least get one shot on Oct. 3. But it comes with the following warning: What if a boatload of Central Arkansas players test positive a week before the Bison game?

Not much is fair in COVID college football.

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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