Kolpack: Football players go to college to play games, not practice

Some FCS teams will go at least 650 days without kicking off against an opponent

North Dakota State football fans celebrate after wide receiver Christian Watson (1) scored on a 75-yard touchdown reception against Montana State during the NCAA FCS semifinal at the Fargodome on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019. David Samson / The Forum


Towson University (Md.) last played a football game on Nov. 23, 2019, at home against Elon University (N.C.), which ended in a tough 25-23 Towson loss. It kept the former North Dakota State Division I FCS national title opponent from a decent shot of getting into the playoff bracket.

Barring some unannounced modified spring schedule, the Tigers’ next game will probably be the 2021 FCS opening weekend on Sept. 4. The gap will be 651 days from the last game to the next game.

That’s a lot of days.

That’s a lot of days of working out, practicing, working out and working out. There are others in the FCS in a similar boat and in all of these scenarios, the silent voice across the country has not been the coaches and administrators.


It has been the players.

The players want games. They go to school to play games. They see the FBS, albeit with constant COVID-19 issues, finish its season with a national champion. I’m sure Alabama didn’t care that Arizona State only played four games. Or that Florida International was 0-3. The Crimson Tide players probably like "MACtion" like anybody else, but I’m sure they didn’t care that Ohio University and Miami (Ohio) were both 2-1 for the season.

Alabama went 13-0, that’s all they cared about. They played 13 games.

Games. It’s about the games.

Teenage hockey players over the years have gravitated to junior programs rather than play high school, because there are way more games going that route. Prep basketball players like AAU ball in the summer because they play more games.

Maybe a few of the veteran Bison players are apprehensive of 19 scheduled games in a calendar year, but the other side of it is going 651 days without a game.

Add to that the drudgery of spring football practice? Granted, veteran players don’t do much in the spring these last few years anyway but that’s a small percentage of the team. Most guys would happily trade spring ball for eight games.

The Bison last played on Oct. 5 against Central Arkansas. Before that it was Jan. 11 in the FCS title game against James Madison. By Saturday night, Feb. 20, a day before the opener against Youngstown State, the Bison players will have seen two game days in 407 days.


“Our guys will be more than ready,” said Bison offensive line coach Dan Larson.

I talked to a few former NDSU players who played a lot of games in their day and they said the big fear is injuries lingering into the fall. But injuries also happen in spring football, like the ACL tear to running back Seth Wilson in the spring of 2019.

The young players are probably pumped about it, they said. The older guys know better, they said.

The veteran Bison players understandably may be somewhat apprehensive of the potential wear and tear, but that’s for head coach Matt Entz and his assistants and director of athletic performance Jim Kramer to worry about. It’s their job to manage the team. The younger players?

Games. Bring on the games.

“We’ve been practicing for four days and already they’re tired of practicing against themselves,” Larson said earlier this week. “Are we X and O ready? We’re still trying to get in that groove, trying to knock the cobwebs out.”

It could be an interesting study in a few years comparing the FCS programs that chose to play over the ones that are sitting out. Will a vacancy of games set those programs back? Will it be no big deal? Will programs burn out from too many games? How will recovery time of football players be affected?

If the FCS pulls it off this spring, I bet it drives the coaches who are idle crazy, especially the ones who go 651 days without a game. It's like that Dan Gable Olympic wrestling story. He would get up at 2 a.m. to start his three-times-a-day workouts because he didn't want the Soviets to outwork him. Football coaches pride their programs on trying to outwork others in the name of development.


One of the worst coaching fears in any sport is falling behind.

A major story line for Bison football in the last few months was the number of players who chose to move on with the NFL or life in general. Yet, 107 players showed up for the first day of practice last week with the following directive from the coaching staff: All 107 could play at some point.

Feb. 21 may not seem like a game day to a good portion of NDSU fans, who over the years have been used to packing the tailgate lot and most of the seats in the Fargodome. I would be surprised that even if the state of North Dakota’s 50% of capacity allowed in large venues holds that the Bison draw more than 5,000 fans in their 18,700-seat stadium.

The players won’t care.

There will most likely be interruption issues and who knows what else. But they want to play a game.

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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