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McFeely: James Madison, awesomely, opts to play pregame video at dome

FargoThere is always great appreciation in this space for entities that stand up to the roughest, meanest hombres around and say, "You're not that tough." It shows confidence. It shows moxie. It shows a nice little streak of irreverence. These ar...

Oct 24, 2015; Harrisonburg, VA, USA; James Madison Dukes wide receiver Dominique Taylor (3) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Richmond Spiders during the first half at Bridgeforth Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 24, 2015; Harrisonburg, VA, USA; James Madison Dukes wide receiver Dominique Taylor (3) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Richmond Spiders during the first half at Bridgeforth Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
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FARGO – There is always great appreciation in this space for entities that stand up to the roughest, meanest hombres around and say, "You're not that tough." It shows confidence. It shows moxie. It shows a nice little streak of irreverence. These are all admirable qualities.

The James Madison University football program has all of that and maybe something else. Anatomically related, if you catch the drift. And we're not talking guts. The Dukes are coming to the Fargodome for a Friday night date with the five-time defending national champions and they will not exactly shuffle onto the turf with their heads down and shoulders slumped.

James Madison has decided to take up the NCAA's offer and play its pregame hype video on the dome's massive video screens before the game against North Dakota State. It is the JMU equivalent to the Bison's "Thunderstruck"-themed video that gets fans all riled up before their team runs onto the field. It's the video that plays when the Dukes sprint onto their field before home games in Harrisonburg, Va.

It's the first time an opposing team has had any sort of pregame acknowledgement, other than the bare minimum of recognizing their existence, since the Bison began playing home games in the Fargodome in 1993.

"This is definitely uncharted waters," said Justin Swanson, an assistant athletic director at NDSU.
This awesomeness is being brought to you by the brain power at the NCAA, which last week insisted NDSU could not play its normal pregame video because the organization wanted to "have a great atmosphere to create a positive experience for student-athletes, coaches and fans" at FCS playoff games. In other words, a pencil-pusher in Indianapolis decided home teams were getting too big of an advantage after earning home games over the 11-game regular season.

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After much outcry and gnashing of teeth in Fargo, the NCAA backed off and declared home teams could, indeed, use their normal introduction video-if the visiting team was also given the opportunity to show its pregame video.

That's the NCAA: Solving problems that didn't exist before it created them.

South Dakota State, last week's Bison opponent, respectfully declined to play its video in the dome. Perhaps it didn't want to expose its athletes to the torrent of boos and catcalls that were sure to cascade from the nearly 19,000 partisans in the dome. Or perhaps it just didn't see any purpose in playing a home-game video at a road game. Either way, the Jackrabbits went quietly into the night by the score of 36-10.
James Madison is coming to the dome with a fine football team and apparently enough gumption for the 123 other FCS teams not playing in Fargo on Friday. During a conference call with NDSU and the NCAA this week, Dukes officials indicated their desire to play their video. They sent it to Swanson, who is in charge of game-day production at the dome.

"The NCAA policy is to create a championship environment catered to providing the best experience for student-athletes of both competing institutions," James Madison spokesman Kevin Warner said. "Our decision to play our video on Friday aligns with the intention of that policy."

That's not as spicy as, say, JMU screaming "Up yours!" at the Bison and their fans, but it's likely to have the same effect. Which is awesome. Seriously. In this sanitized and watered-down sports environment where coaches and players rarely push the envelope for fear of backlash, the Dukes are laying it on the line.
It is audacious. Whether it's smart is an entirely different matter. SDSU provided enough material in the two months before last week's contest that Bison coach Chris Klieman used the word "motivated" a handful of times in his postgame remarks. With little history between the Bison and Dukes, NDSU and its fans were going to be scraping the bottom of the barrel for perceived slights or insults.

James Madison just put one on a tee for the Bison and aren't apologizing for it. Swanson said the minute-long video will be played after NDSU plays its video and takes the field and the Gold Star Marching Band plays the national anthem. That's when JMU will come out of the locker room and run onto the field as their video plays.

"I've taken a look at it. It's a pretty standard pregame video. It has highlights from last year and some highlights from the national championship season (in 2004)," Swanson said. "It also has shots of some of the players and things like that. Some of the words they use and things they say, I'm curious to see how our fans react. It's obviously something made to be played at their home games, as you'd expect."
Oh, it'll be wonderful. It's worthy of a tip of the cap to the James Madison football program. Bison fans don't have to like the Dukes, but they have to respect them for their fortitude. NDSU is 18-0 in playoff games at the dome, with most teams withering in the intensity. The Dukes are willing to look it right in the face. What do they have to lose?

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