Winter will be a factor with some Valley football teams, especially this week
Four league schools will host outdoor games at end of the month
FARGO — That arctic blast blowing in from the north is not stopping in Grand Forks, Fargo, Brookings, S.D., Vermillion, S.D., or Cedar Falls, Iowa. Not that the football teams from the University of North Dakota, North Dakota State, South Dakota State, the University of South Dakota or Northern Iowa care.
They have indoor facilities.
The problem with this week’s February deep freeze could be more of an issue at the likes of Illinois State, Western Illinois and perhaps even Missouri State. Those Missouri Valley Football Conference teams are all outside all the time.
A warmer-than-usual January helped. Illinois State had some snow to deal with, but crews cleared its field and the temperatures have been OK.
“Right now our kids have been good about going out and playing,” said Redbirds head coach Brock Spack. “It’s a little different being cold as far as being warm. You worry about the heat when it’s really hot and now you worry about frostbite when the wind is blowing in January and February.”
High temperatures in Normal, Ill., this week are expected to be in the mid-teens. To maximize the “warmest” part of the day, ISU has gone to a noon start for practice. Also, whereas most teams are a stickler for players wearing the same practice gear, when the temperature reaches a certain point, Spack said that stipulation doesn’t matter.
“I tell our players it’s every man for himself,” he said. “Whatever you need to stay warm. We haven’t had too big of an issue with that.”
The NDSU players have Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. And when that’s booked, they can move into the indoor bubble over Dacotah Field. Moreover, the school is expected to announce a formal groundbreaking plan this month for a new $37 million indoor practice venue.
SDSU and UND have indoor practice facilities. USD has the DakotaDome and the Panthers have the UNI-Dome.
Illinois State has an old fieldhouse to at least do some parts of practice. That is easier said than done since other sports at ISU, like baseball, softball and track and field, are using the same facility.
Youngstown State, NDSU’s first-game opponent, has an indoor practice facility. But Western Illinois will have to deal with the same temperatures as Illinois State as it prepares for its opener Feb. 20 at Missouri State.
That is the earliest date for any conference team at an outdoor venue.
The league schedule could get dicey the following week when Youngstown, SIU, WIU and Illinois State all host games. All have outdoor stadiums. NDSU is at Southern, UNI is at Youngstown, USD is at Illinois State and Missouri State is at Western.
“Weather is going to play a factor in this,” said UNI head coach Mark Farley. “We play in a dome. I feel for some of these guys who are playing and there is 10 to 12 inches of snow. We’d have to play in the parking lot. Everybody is trying to do the best for their team.”
Farther south, at Southern Illinois, at least the temps will be in the 20s this week. So what? That’s the attitude head coach Nick Hill is taking, referencing the Green Bay Packers playing playoff games in December and January.
“I asked our guys, raise your hand if you would turn down playing in Lambeau in January,” he said. “Championship games are won in January.”
At least the Missouri Valley is playing, sans Indiana State which opted out of the spring season citing the safety concerns of playing too many games in a calendar year. In the Big Sky Conference, the lack of an indoor facility was a principal factor in Montana and Montana State opting out of the league season.
South Dakota State’s first home game at the outdoor Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium isn’t until March 6. Then again, the normal weather pattern probably isn’t much different than a November game in Brookings.
“We get to play outdoors,” said SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier, turning a question from a negative to a positive. “We’re excited about that. We embrace that. Without a doubt, if the weather forecast is for 10 below and windchill, it would be a different game plan than if it were 40 degrees and sunshine.”