FARGO-A Big Ten Conference mandate of not scheduling FCS football programs has been modified to put the Division I younger brothers back in the conversation again.
North Dakota State athletic director Matt Larsen said he's been told the new policy is a direct reflection of the nine-game Big Ten schedule. On years where a Big Ten team has four home league games, it will be allowed to put an FCS team on its slate.
At the least, it gives NDSU an open phone line to the Big Ten again. Whether anybody answers the call is another matter.
"We sure hope so," Larsen said. "Again, the best part for us is with the Big Ten, it's the most geographical favorable footprint and they are the teams we would most prefer to play. There are a lot of Land Grant institutions and it gives our fan base more ability to travel."
The Big Ten instituted its no-FCS policy in 2015, citing strength of schedule as a major means of qualifying for the College Football Playoff. NDSU played the University of Iowa last season, but that game was scheduled in 2011.
So the Bison have gone out of region for future FBS games at Oregon in 2020, at Arizona in 2022 and at Colorado in 2024. Larsen said he believes the new Big Ten policy is effective immediately and the Bison still have room in their 2018 schedule with non-conference games at home against North Alabama and Delaware.
It's highly doubtful any Big Ten teams would be available in 2018. But with the alternating nine-game Big Ten schedule, at least NDSU would know who to target.
"Instead of us throwing a dart at a map and hope a school wants to do it," Larsen said.
For instance, the University of Minnesota has five road games and four at home in its 2018 league schedule. The Gophers are done with their entire 2018 schedule but in theory could have an FCS game in the even years starting in 2020.
"Our focus is 2018 so we haven't dug into that much," Larsen said. "But we would certainly welcome the opportunity to play them again. It makes a lot of sense, since we recruit out of Minnesota. I could see having conversations in the future."
NDSU last played the Gophers in 2011 after back-to-back games in 2006 and 2007. The Bison went 2-1 in those games and are 9-3 overall against FBS programs.
That success has translated into NDSU bringing large crowds to its FBS games, flooding the Metrodome in '06 and '07 and TCF Bank Stadium in 2011 in large numbers. The estimate of Bison fans at Iowa last year was at least 8,000.
"I like to think that makes us an attractive FCS opponent," Larsen said. "They're able to sell some tickets. The closer it is in region, the better chances for us to bring some numbers."