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McFeely: Ex-NDSU president Bresciani sounds less than bullish about possible FBS move

In a local radio interview, Bresciani listed several boxes that would need to be checked before NDSU could consider moving to an FBS conference — and he raised the possibility that the school's athletic department fundraising has nearly reached its peak.

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NDSU president Dean Bresciani on May 6, 2022.
Chris Flynn / The Forum
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FARGO — Call him "Ol' Wet Blanket" Bresciani.

Maybe "Dean the Downer."

Former North Dakota State president Dean Bresciani, recently replaced by David Cook after 12 years at the helm, sounded less than glowing about the school's chances of moving to the higher Football Bowl Subdivision from its current place in the Football Championship Subdivision.

In an interesting interview last week on Bison 1660 radio , Bresciani listed several boxes that would need to be checked before NDSU could consider moving to an FBS conference — and he raised the possibility that the school's athletic department fundraising has nearly reached its peak.

The last item is one that contradicts the thinking of some at NDSU and some closely tied to the school.

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"In a town of a quarter of a million people (including the entire Fargo-Moorhead metro area) you can only raise so much money and I think we're probably getting near that point, so it's not as simple as, 'Well, you'll raise more money if you're FBS.' I don't know that that's the case," Bresciani said.

In NDSU's recently completed "In Our Hands" fundraising campaign, Bison athletics raised $160 million of the $586.7 million total.

Advocates of NDSU moving to an FBS conference if the opportunity presented itself — myself included — have said more robust fundraising sparked by the move to a higher level would help cover increased costs.

The Bison football team has won nine of the last 11 FCS national championships and calls for the program to move up have increased among fans, even though they are possibly still a minority. There are no signs NDSU's dominance of the division is slowing down, particularly since strong programs like James Madison and Sam Houston continue to move to FBS.

The decision to move doesn't start with NDSU. An FBS conference would have to invite the school to join and if the Bison accepted, their membership would need to be approved by that league's presidents.

The most attractive landing spot for NDSU would be the Mountain West Conference, a Group of Five league that includes land-grant schools like Wyoming, Colorado State, Nevada and Utah State. But Fargo's isolated geography is a hindrance to any FBS invitation and the Mountain West is no exception.

And would the Mountain West be interested in granting a football-only invite to NDSU, which would give a massive boost to the Bison athletic department in terms of finances and competition for its other sports? Seems unlikely.

Bresciani raised finances and other issues.

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"We'd have to find an affiliation that didn't bankrupt us," Bresciani told the radio station.

"A lot of FBS programs are in real trouble on the cost of the program not being sustained by the revenue that is produced by it. So it would, for us, would require a league in that the television revenues were substantial, that our fans could still go to away games, that our fans would recognize the schools by name and reputation and that the cost would be minimal, of any at all, at the end of the day.

"That's a heck of a lot to ask. But for NDSU, we don't believe that we have the wherewithal to get into a situation that's going to require a lot of new resources."

This would be bad news for those with FBS aspirations. According to the Knight-Newhouse College Athletics Database, NDSU's total athletic budget is in the neighborhood of $22 million. The poorest funded athletic department in the Mountain West is Fresno State at $29 million. Nevada-Las Vegas, as an example, has an athletic budget of $52 million.

Bresciani did say NDSU's athletic department is healthy financially, partially because it gets such little state help relative to universities in other states. Bresciani said NDSU is the least-subsidized athletic department in the three conferences in which its teams compete (Missouri Valley Football Conference, Summit League, Big 12).

"A lot of teams and leagues are getting in trouble with the amount of money being poured into athletic programs, which means it's being taken away from other parts of the university if it's appropriated dollars," Bresciani said. "I think that's not going to remain a sustainable model for a lot of schools at the FCS or FBS level, for that matter. And the Group of Five, in particular, are getting a lot of criticism as to how much appropriated money is being spent to subsidize athletics.

"We're pretty darn healthy. When you consider the money that is being raised for student scholarships, and then the formula for funding that we get from the state for those student-athletes, we are virtually breaking even on athletics. We are growing our own funds, if you will, to run the athletic program. But that said, if the right opportunity came up -- and right being defined as one that wouldn't require a lot of new resources -- we'd have to take a look at it and you always have to be ready.

"When these opportunities come up, they usually don't say, 'Get back to us after six months of studying.' It's usually, 'Get back to us this afternoon.' And so you have to be thinking about where those opportunities might come up doing your analysis and whether they'd be affordable and productive and good for our athletic program. And if the phone rings, be ready."

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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