Mike McFeely column: Time for NDSU to show, not tell
An assembly of 7,045 witnessed North Dakota State's final game as a Division II football school inside the Fargodome last Saturday. In terms of size and energy, this crowd nicely matched the one that turned out to see Bob Babich's swan song again...
An assembly of 7,045 witnessed North Dakota State's final game as a Division II football school inside the Fargodome last Saturday. In terms of size and energy, this crowd nicely matched the one that turned out to see Bob Babich's swan song against St. Cloud State in 2002.
Which is a startling fact that should open some eyes at NDSU.
This year's finale against Concordia-St. Paul had almost nothing in common with the game that ended the mess known as the 2002 season. While Babich's Bison were 2-7 heading into their final game, their season long doomed thanks to poor play and a wagonload of injuries, Craig Bohl's first team was a reasonably entertaining 7-3 prior to hosting Concordia. The chance of a playoff berth, while slimmer than Calista Flockhart, was still a possibility.
Granted, the opponent -- proud and deserving owner of a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference co-championship -- packed all the marquee wallop of Adam Sandler's latest cinematic effort.
But still, these Bison, with the Victory of All Victories under their belt the second week of the season, deserved better than to play their last game in a mausoleum.
Asked about the number of fannies in the seats afterward, Bison athletic director Gene Taylor could only roll his eyes.
"If you go back in history and look, our attendance in the month of November has never been good," he said. "It really doesn't matter what our record is, attendance drops off dramatically in November."
That might be true, but it should serve notice to the honchos at NDSU that they need to -- pardon the phrase -- step it up when it comes to assembling their first Division I-AA football team next year.
Judging by the apathy that seems to have gripped the citizens of Fargo-Moorhead concerning the Bison these last few weeks, Taylor and Bohl need to assure the football program does three things next season:
1) Demonstrates that NDSU is fully committed to bringing a I-AA playoff game to the dome sometime prior to the building crumbling to dust.
2) Wins significantly more games than it loses and ...
3) Plays at least two home opponents that knock the socks off the citizenry.
If NDSU fails to do these things, it runs the risk of playing its home games before crowds of less than 10,000 and possibly in the neighborhood of 5,000. Which will not do much toward paying the bills of this grand adventure.
To their credit, the Bison powers plan to ramp up scholarships from 36 this year to 56 next year. That will be increased to 60 in 2005 and 63, the I-AA maximum, in 2006. Besides making NDSU eligible to play a sacrificial lamb/money game against a Division I-A school in 2007, the Bison are putting their cash where their mouth is. They are indicating that they are serious about this move.
The other two requirements won't be so easy.
Taylor said NDSU's schedule next season will look much like Northern Colorado's did this year. Northern Colorado, of course, is the school that jumped Division II and the North Central Conference and is currently playing its first year of I-AA. It has become the measuring stick for every move the Bison make.
The Bears scheduled a mix of six I-AA teams and five D-II teams. It's worked perfectly since, with one game remaining, they are 8-2 and ranked No. 20 in the nation. Northern Colorado's only losses have been to Florida Atlantic and Idaho State, both highly rated in I-AA.
"There's no reason we can't set that kind of goal here," Taylor said. "When you finish 8-3 like we did this year, you don't want to go backward if you can help it. Our schedule should be similar to Northern Colorado's, so you would hope we could have similar success."
The problem with finding victories might come with the kind of schedule Taylor is trying to piece together -- the kind he needs to maintain interest in the program. The Bison have three games already inked, all on the road: St. Mary's of California, California Davis and Northern Colorado. That looks like only one certain victory, against St. Mary's.
We can assume a game against South Dakota State, which is also making the leap to I-AA. Taylor still is awaiting word from North Dakota and Nebraska-Omaha. Assuming a minor miracle occurs and the Sioux and Mavericks agree to play, those games would not be gimmes.
Taylor said he has talked with Montana State, Georgia Southern and Portland State. Montana State and Georgia Southern, both strong I-AA programs, would likely insist that any home-and-home contract start on their turf. Again, both would be difficult tasks for the Bison.
So it appears two of the three key questions will remain a bit longer: Where will the Bison find eight or nine victories and how will they secure a couple of impact home games?
That is the challenge for Taylor and NDSU between now and the start of next season. They need to show Bison fans how great the move to Division I-AA will be, instead of just telling them.
If not, we could see a replay of the Concordia-St. Paul game -- both in terms of opponent quality and fan interest -- several times in the Fargodome next year.
Readers can reach Mike McFeely at(701) 241-5580 or firstname.lastname@example.org