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Schnepf: NDSU should not join Coastal Carolina in moving up to the next level of football

FARGO - Brent Musburger, the veteran ESPN announcer who broadcasted last weekend's North Dakota State football loss at Montana, will be in Gainesville, Fla., on Saturday to cover the not-so-powerful New Mexico State Aggies challenging the big-nam...

Coastal Carolina quarterback Alex Ross eveades the pass rush of North Dakota State's Nate Tanguay Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014, during the FCS quarterfinal playoffs at the Fargodome.David Samson / The Forum
Coastal Carolina quarterback Alex Ross eveades the pass rush of North Dakota State's Nate Tanguay Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014, during the FCS quarterfinal playoffs at the Fargodome.David Samson / The Forum
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FARGO – Brent Musburger, the veteran ESPN announcer who broadcasted last weekend's North Dakota State football loss at Montana, will be in Gainesville, Fla., on Saturday to cover the not-so-powerful New Mexico State Aggies challenging the big-name Florida Gators.

"I would have no reservations saying that North Dakota State over the last few years would've won more times than not against the Aggies," Musburger said.

That statement, in and of itself, certainly adds fuel to the fire to the argument subscribed by numerous Bison fans: NDSU should make the move up from the second tier of college football, known as the FCS, to the top level of college football, known as the FBS.

There was more fuel added to that fire on Monday when Coastal Carolina, an NDSU playoff opponent at the FCS level for the last two seasons, announced it was moving to FBS. It joins other FCS powers like Georgia Southern and Appalachian State who made the same move two years ago.

So when is NDSU-a program that has produced the last four FCS champions-making the move up? That's a question NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen has fielded more than he would probably care to. The answer is, and should be, never.

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"Be careful what you wish for," Musburger said.

It's the same advice Musburger offered to Montana, when it was considering moving up a few years ago-stressing that there is nothing wrong with being the big dog of the FCS rather than a middle-of-the-road puppy with the big boys.

"There were a couple of Montana fans who got upset with me for saying that," said Musburger, a Montana native who lives near Missoula two months during the summer. "But I truly believe in that. You don't need to be spreading your state's resources on something that is very difficult to achieve.

"I would guess after all of North Dakota State's recent success, the fan base is saying, 'Hey, let's get into the Big 12, we can win. Not that you can't win a handful of games at the next level. You can as North Dakota State has proven. The problem is the resources that you need in order to keep up. For North Dakota State to contend against a Texas or Oklahoma would require every bit of oil revenue out of the pocket. That is where I would urge a cautious step."

And that is exactly what NDSU is doing. It's not jumping the FCS ship. It's being patient, waiting to see if the landscape of college football will undergo a drastic change in the next few years.

What could happen is a separation between the $100-million programs of the Power 5 conferences (Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC and ACC) and the not-so-wealthy FBS programs. Some think the Power 5 will eventually create its own division in football, thus creating a merger of the lower FBS programs like New Mexico State and the higher FCS programs like North Dakota State.

With the FCS becoming somewhat watered down with the loss of some its heavyweights, this would be an ideal level for NDSU football.

"It certainly bears watching," Musburger said.

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With so much uncertainty in college football, schools like Coastal Carolina are making a mistake moving up. Those schools have no chance of a national championship. And if successful, they may get to play in some meaningless bowl game. They could certainly find themselves back at the same level they left.

Subscribing pretty much to the same sentiment as his predecessor Gene Taylor, Larsen thinks the best level for NDSU football is the second tier-whatever that may become.

When Larsen announced last week that NDSU would fund full cost of attendance for all of its scholarship athletes, it was not only a move to be able to recruit against the New Mexico States and Wyomings, but it was also a move to position itself for any change in the college football landscape.

"That was part of the reason we made the announcement ... to compete with those teams that would be at that second tier," Larsen said. "Whatever that second tier becomes, we feel we will be in a position for our student athletes to succeed."

Yes, Larsen is somewhat worried about the FCS losing perennial playoff teams. But not enough for NDSU, with its $20 million athletic budget, to move up to a level where the top dogs have $160 million budgets.

Musburger says Idaho is a perfect example of a program making a wrong FBS decision. It left the FCS and the Big Sky Conference in 1996 to join the WAC. Because the WAC imploded, Idaho is now a member of the Sun Belt Conference-the same league for Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State. The Sun Belt may be FBS in name, but it certainly has an FCS feel to it.

And after posting a 113-45 record at the FCS level from 1982 to 1994, Idaho has since won 69 games and lost 154 at the FBS level.

"Idaho got jealous of Boise State and jumped into the deeper water," Musburger said. "And they've been floundering ever since. My advice to Idaho would be to leave that behind and come back to the Big Sky."

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And the best advice for those who want NDSU to move up: Be content that NDSU is staying where they are at, while being ready for any change.

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