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Kolpack: When it comes to being left out of FBS, blame Canada

Geography is not NDSU's friend with several notable FCS names making a move to FBS.

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South Dakota State President Peggy Miller jokingly attempts to catch North Dakota State unaware and take possession of the border marker during the festivities at a 2004 media conference hyping the invigorated rivalry. From left to right, Miller, NDSU President Joe Chapman, student-athletes from SDSU and NDSU, NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor and head coach Craig Bohl. Forum file photo
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The day was gray, but only because of the cool, cloudy April weather. When representatives from North Dakota State and South Dakota State football programs met in 2004 at the George Knudsen farm located at the border between the two states, optimism of some sort of a rivalry and a hopeful future in Division I-AA football took center stage.

Somehow, some way, the programs had hopes of snaking their way into some sort of relevance in the subdivision, which is now the FCS.

Over two decades later, relevance has shifted to supremacy. Both are among a handful of programs that perennially have a legitimate shot at winning an FCS national title. Meanwhile, the other championship-caliber teams are bailing to the FBS like a ship going down in a hurricane.

It’s all too familiar.

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The same thing happened with Division II back in the day.

The DII big names in the 1980s and ‘90s were NDSU, Troy State, Jacksonville State (Ala.), North Alabama, Northern Colorado, Pittsburg State (Kan.), Northwest Missouri State, Indiana (Pa.) and Portland State. There were others who made an occasional run, but for consistency, they were the powers.

Of that lot, only Pitt State, Northwest Missouri and Indiana remained in Division II. Most of the more established D2 schools — seeing the NCAA cutting maximum scholarships from 42 to 36 to 30 in a span of a decade — had enough of that drain and moved up.

The last several years have seen a similar movement from FCS to FBS with the likes of Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Liberty and Old Dominion. Lately, the buzz has been with James Madison, Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State. Conference USA appears to be courting Jacksonville State, Sam Houston and perhaps others.

One of the principal figures in that NDSU and SDSU 2004 border meeting thinks it’s too much, too soon.

“I’m not too concerned about that,” said SDSU head football coach John Stiegelmeier. “I don’t think South Dakota State is poised to go FBS and so I like where we’re at. I think we’ve developed a really good athletic department in our different areas, specifically football. Is (FCS) watered down? I don’t know that because there are programs coming in from Division II, too, and what’s not to say they’re not like ourselves and North Dakota State and will become really good football programs. I think there have been a lot of quick decisions in changing conferences and stuff and it will be interesting to see how it shakes out.”

Those quick decisions could be a result of schools getting ahead of the NCAA Board of Governors orchestrating a “constitutional convention” of representatives from all divisions. I read the NCAA release five times and still couldn’t decipher all the higher education language as to the intent of this, but the words “wholesale transformation” may be a clue to big changes.

It sounds like an attempt to give schools and conferences more power. The first meeting is Nov. 15. Changes are expected to be voted on at the annual NCAA Convention in January.

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Whether that addresses the speed of FCS to FBS movement is a who-knows deal. But jumping divisions over the years has been a pack mentality, with several schools doing it in a short time period.

Unlike the Division II downfall where NDSU only had itself to blame for not pushing its own Division I agenda, the Bison currently are left on an island in the middle of North America.

For that, I blame Canada. The university is too close to Canada and not close enough to the rest of the FBS world.

When former NDSU president Joe Chapman initially tried to round up the troops for a Division I move in the early 2000s, he tried to sway the entire Division II North Central Conference. That came at an NCC presidents meeting in Alexandria, Minn.

Too many were opposed, leaving NDSU, SDSU and Northern Colorado to go at it alone. At least the Division I Mid-Continent and Big Sky conferences were out there for most sports. For football, the Gateway Football Conference (now the Missouri Valley Football Conference) was somewhat close.

Now? Forget about the entire Missouri Valley making a move to FBS; current FBS presidents would never go for it; wouldn’t want to share revenue. If the FBS Mountain West Conference doesn’t come through for football for NDSU, I’m not sure what to tell you.

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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