FARGO-The school is better known for basketball and its historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, but the administration at Butler University in Indianapolis, Ind., this week feels like it drained a 3-point game-winning field goal at the buzzer with the football program.
It's all on board playing North Dakota State in 2019 at Target Field in Minneapolis.
It will be a landmark game in several respects for the FCS non-scholarship school from the Pioneer Football League. It will by far be the biggest stadium the football team has ever played in and the exposure for the unique nature of the game can only help, said Ken LaRose, the associate athletic director for development who oversees football.
"The Big East carries our athletic department," he said, referring to Butler's conference affiliation in all sports but football. "Basketball made a name for ourselves and all of our sports programs have benefitted from that exposure. Now (football) will carry a little exposure bringing us a lot of attention for recruiting. We're going to sell that game for the next couple of years and beyond."
Indianapolis is almost 600 miles from Minneapolis and NDSU is expected to have a major crowd advantage Target Field. The Bison will be the home team in the neutral site game, but LaRose figures the Bulldogs will have some support, especially from older players on this year's roster who will be graduated by then.
"I just talked to a couple of seniors and they're like, how can we get tickets to that?" LaRose said. "We know about (NDSU's) following and all of their support, but for us to play the big Goliath and the fact it's the first Division I game at Target Field, it's neat. The kids are never afraid of challenges and this is a big one."
Butler is no stranger to playing Missouri Valley Football Conference schools, having played a Valley school every year since 2010 and competing into the fourth quarter in a couple of them. In the season opener this year at Indiana State, for instance, the Bulldogs had more first downs, rushing yards and time of possession, but couldn't overcome four turnovers in a 41-25 loss.
In 2012, Butler got within Western Illinois 23-15 midway in the fourth quarter but couldn't reach the end zone after that and the eight-point deficit ended up being the final score. A year earlier, Indiana State pulled away from a 21-20 halftime lead to win 48-34.
"We knew they would probably win but they've been fairly decent scores," LaRose said. "We almost beat Western. It seems when we play the Missouri Valley schools that we hold our own for the first half and then their endurance and playmakers wear us down a little bit."
It's best Division I season, ironically, came in 2009 with no Valley schools on the schedule. Butler went 11-1 beating Central Connecticut State in the Gridiron Classic, which matched the Pioneer champion against the Northeast Conference winner.
That game isn't necessary anymore after the Pioneer League was granted an autobid to the FCS playoffs starting in 2013, a year in which Butler won the league. Tennessee State beat the host Bulldogs 31-0 in the first round.