North Dakota State President Dean Bresciani talks football dynasty and what’s next for NDSU.
The 14th president of North Dakota’s land-grant university has seen unprecedented success under his tenure in both on-the-field accomplishments and classroom achievements. Dean Bresciani has also guided NDSU through substantial growth in enrollment. With ambitious goals for NDSU’s future, Bresciani took the time to reflect on the football dynasty and the impact it’s made on the university.
Bison Illustrated: What do you think it says about the NDSU football program that, even in defeat, they stuck together, congratulated James Madison after the game and got together at the 50-yard-line, held hands and took a knee?
Dean Bresciani: “Their behavior reflects the culture of our university community, our athletic program, our coaches and obviously our teams and players across all NDSU sports. It isn’t typical to NCAA Division-I athletics, though, and it doesn’t happen by accident. It is the result of a purposeful philosophy and approach, selective recruiting, disciplined hard work, respect for your competition and respect for yourself. That doesn’t mean an assumption of always winning, but it does mean that win or lose, you do it with the full intent to win, dignity and without excuses or blame. And I believe that sends a message—even if we didn’t win today, we’ll see you again tomorrow.”
BI: No trip to Frisco this year, but what can you say about this football program and the exposure it has given not only NDSU but Fargo?
DB: “I often share that after I first came to NDSU, when traveling around the country, I had to explain what the N-D-S-U letters of my lapel pin stood for. No more! Everywhere I travel now, from TSA agents to hotel staff, I get a ‘Go Bison!’ and a horns up sign. Fans even of other teams ask me how we have built and maintained a football dynasty that set the all-time NCAA Division I record for consecutive national championship wins, and I believe is second only to John Wooden’s UCLA ‘eight-peat’ in basketball, for any sport. The size of our fan base that travels to major away games exceeds most any school in any league in the nation. Our record for competing with and succeeding against teams at the supposed ‘next level,’ year after year, leaves football fans across the nation in great respect for the competitiveness of our football program against any in the country. And don’t forget we’ve done all that with student-athletes who meet and often exceed the academic performance of our overall student body.
“As a result, NDSU feels very fortunate to have become a nationally recognized flagship university, both athletically and academically, that has repositioned perceptions of our entire state. That’s not just about what we do but how we do it. When you consider that package in its entirety, I don’t know that there is a comparable program anywhere in the country and that’s not my opinion—it’s what I hear everywhere I travel from the West Coast to the East Coast.”
BI: Many of the seniors on the football team are sticking around the Fargo-Moorhead area. Why do you think that is?
DB: “That doesn’t come at all as a surprise. We often talk about the Bison Family, but that isn’t an affiliation that stops at the edge of campus. Our community and our state passionately supports our athletic program and its athletes, and we’re very fortunate that we live in one of the most vibrant, exciting and economically diverse and successful college towns in the nation. With all that going for us, and a breadth of job opportunities that college graduates elsewhere in the nation could only dream of, it’s not hard to see why our players—and our graduates in general—can’t imagine leaving, and the majority, in fact, don’t.”
BI: A lot of this magazine is looking at past accomplishments on the field, but what does the future hold for NDSU off the field, around campus and in the classroom?
DB: “NDSU Athletics in general, and our football team in particular, have served as an unprecedented lens for focusing positive national attention on NDSU, the FM area, and our entire state, as perhaps nothing before in state history. We ‘get’ what an opportunity and honor that is and are humbled by it. No athletic program has in any sport, much less across all sports, accomplished what ours has. We’ve also accomplished a great deal in terms of full-time student enrollment, research productivity, commercialization activity and outreach to the state. External ranking agencies from the National Science Foundation to U.S. News and World Report confirm that for us. ESPN to virtually every college sports media outlet in the nation confirm that for us. Our fans—now crossing the nation—confirm that for us. That’s a foundation and trajectory I don’t see changing anytime soon, and it’s very exciting in terms of what it means for our university, our surrounding university community, and all of North Dakota.”
BI: Football season is over, so what has you excited about NDSU Athletics for this winter and spring seasons?
DB: “Well that’s a softball question, pun intended. Anyone following our winter sports has to note that our women’s and men’s basketball teams and our wrestling team are having extraordinary years so far in league competition. It’s far too early to make predictions about the end of the season, but if they keeping competing at the level they are now, we are in for a very exciting ride the next few months. And, of course, our Spring sports programs aren’t waiting in wings for the thaw, due to donor support that has provided NDSU the best overall indoor space in our league and comparable to most places in the nation. They will be more ready than ever before to start what I anticipate to be their own very exciting seasons.”