Now is the time for that next step
This year marks the 21st season of Bison football at the FargoDome. When the facility opened in late 1992, Fargo had a population just shy of 75,000 and not a single Buffalo Wild Wings. North Dakota State had an enrollment slightly over half of what it is now. Tailgating was practically nonexistent with only a handful of trucks in the West lot. As for Fargo, it wasn’t too long ago when there wasn’t much south of 32nd Avenue South.
My oh my, how times have changed. Pretty soon, 32nd Avenue South will be the middle of town, NDSU will surpass 15,000 students and we might have four Buffalo Wild Wings. A guy can dream, can’t he? By 2040, the metro area is expected to go from a population of 209,000 to between 270,000 and 300,000 according to a study by the F-M Metropolitan Council of Government. Next spring, we’re even getting our own television series on FX, “Fargo,” based on that “oh yah sure, you betcha” hit from the Coen brothers.
Fargo is bursting at the seams. The construction booming near 52nd Avenue South and Veterans Boulevard is evidence of a city that is a burgeoning business, technology, health care and education hub of the Midwest. With all that growth and excitement, one thing has remained the same: the FargoDome seats 18,70– the same number it did when it opened in 1992. After consecutive national championships, demand for Bison Football is at an all-time high. America is in love with football, and that isn’t changing anytime soon. And the biggest football show between Minneapolis and Seattle is in our very own city.
In August, individual tickets for Bison football games sold out in 90 minutes. There isn’t a single season ticket available. You’d have better luck getting into Taylor Swift or Justin Timberlake. Tailgating is an event in itself, an entertainment destination for thousands. Hundreds of people braved a heat index upwards of 100 degrees to wait in line at the annual Fan Day event just to get Bison yard signs. You can’t go anywhere in town without seeing Bison shirts or hearing about the excitement for the upcoming season.
Unfortunately, the one area where we are limited – right now – is how many people we can get into the FargoDome. Whether the FargoDome can add to that 18,700 seat number will have a tremendous impact on the future of Bison football. To take that next step and become a Top 25 team – regardless of division – it’s critical for that seat number to grow along with us. Those seats mean everything from increased ticket revenue, corporate sponsorships and generating the resources NDSU would need to compete at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
Given the landscape of college athletics and where NDSU is as an institution, it is increasingly apparent the future home for NDSU is in the Football Bowl Subdivision, not the Football Championship Subdivision. We belong competing on a weekly basis with the likes of Kansas State, Colorado State and Minnesota, rather than the likes of Missouri State or South Dakota, with all due respect to those schools.
After last season’s national championship, Jeff Sagarin had the Bison ranked as the no. 35 team in all divisions of college football. Another championship, and unbeaten season, could propel us to a Top 25 finish in Sagarin’s rankings. These rankings are used to determine the BCS, Bowl Championship Series, rankings. We finished just below national powers like Southern California (#33) and Michigan State (#34), and above dozens of recognized programs like Texas Tech (#37), Syracuse (#38), Missouri (#40), Boise State (#41), Arizona (#44), West Virginia (#48), Miami-Florida (#49), Virginia Tech (#54) and Tennessee (#56). We would have been in the top half of the Big Ten according to Sagarin, finishing above Minnesota (#68), Iowa (#70), Purdue (#71), Indiana (#76) and Illinois (#126).
We are capable of competing against these teams, and, soon, we should be competing with these teams more than once or twice a year. Ask yourself, where do we belong? Competing against the likes of Missouri State and South Dakota? Or, competing against the likes of Kansas State, Colorado State and Minnesota? To compete against these teams, however, we need a stadium that can seat more than 18,700 people. It is absolutely critical that if we’re going to eventually make the move to the FBS, we need to start thinking about adding seats to the FargoDome.
More seats could be a prerequisite for membership in a conference like the Mountain West or Mid-American Conference. These would be natural landing spots for the Bison. Top FCS teams are already making this move. Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Old Dominion are all bolting the FCS for the FBS. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern are joining the Sun Belt Conference. Old Dominion is joining Conference USA. Montana was actively considering moving to the FBS last year before deciding to stay, for the time being, in the Big Sky Conference of the FCS. All these teams either recently renovated their stadiums for seating expansions, or in the case of Old Dominion, voted for a new on-campus football stadium.
Bison Football is at the point where the next logical step is making that leap to the FBS. To make that leap, we need to find a way to get more fans into the stands. Fargo is already moving in that direction and could certainly support the venue. Think about where we were ten years ago. In only a few short years, we’ve climbed the FCS mountain and shown we have what it takes to create a Top 25 football program regardless of division. Now, think of where we could be in the next ten years. Regular games on ESPN or ESPN2 featuring a sold-out FargoDome filled to capacity. Now is the time for that next step. The march is on!