Photo by J. Alan Paul Photography
Politics and sports often serve as convenient bedfellows because of their similarities. Both are fiercely competitive endeavors with easily identifiable winners and losers. Each is chalk full of colorful personalities, heroes and villains. Clichés abound as we hear things like, “Our opponent will be tough to beat,” “The only poll that counts is on election day,” juxtaposed with an oft-repeated quote from perhaps the greatest quarterback of all-time, New England’s Tom Brady. Brady once remarked, “There’s only one stat that matters. To score more points than the other team.”
There’s a horse race nature to each that keeps sports fans and politicos following with a religious fervor on a daily basis. Who’s up, who’s down, who’s trending in the right direction and who’s got the “Big Mo.” The green lifeblood that pumps through the veins of athletics and politics is money. It makes the wheels go round. On one hand, we’re told there’s too much money in politics. After the United States Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case, that’s particularly true and has prompted calls in some corners for a constitutional amendment on campaign spending. Telling of the lens through which we view sports and politics, we frequently hear that old Cold War axiom, “arms race” – once used to describe how the United States and Soviets kept pace with one another in spending significant portions of their budgets to develop the most devastating weapons in world history via the nuclear triad. Only to keep them holstered at the ready under the principle of Mutually Assured Destruction (with the clever moniker MAD) – being used as shorthand to describe the race for competing teams to have everything from state-of-the-art facilities to resources like nutrition bars, and funding cost of attendance.
Yet, this arms race, much like its geopolitical counterpart that led to the creation of things like the internet, smart phones, to life saving medical technology, has benefits with a multiplier effect that stretches far beyond the money that boosters donate. The funding in college athletics has a singular focus at its core. That core is providing opportunities for student athletes, some that would not have had the opportunity to get a college degree otherwise. In turn, the impact our student athletes have on others and in their chosen professions following their days at North Dakota State has bettered the world. You can read our “Where Are They Now” features for proof.
Beyond that, but just as important, sports gives people hope and brings us together. Ask the parents of a child fighting a life-threatening disease at Sanford Children’s Hospital who gets a visit from their favorite player or players. That makes a difference. It brings people together, like this headline from November 2017: “Family of ‘The Dutch Destroyer’ receives warm welcome at Bison game.” We all know the story of Lukas Kusters, and his family, who have been adopted by Bison Nation as our own despite living far removed from the Dakotas in Wilmington, Delaware. In addition to these benefits, investing in NDSU athletics has brought significant national exposure to not only North Dakota State, but the State of North Dakota. Amenities help land top recruits, who, as demonstrated by another banner year for Bison athletics, manifests itself in the form of success on the playing fields (i.e., national and conference titles). This recipe has directly translated into ESPN’s multiple visits, including two of their signature shows, College GameDay and SportsCenter, showcasing our state. It doesn’t take an expensive political poll to tell you that our state’s most recognizable and popular figure is Carson Wentz. It doesn’t take a PR firm to tell you how much value Wentz has to his home state.
Which leads me to a quote from George H.W. Bush that blends sports and politics together. Bush had just upset Ronald Reagan to win the 1980 Iowa presidential caucuses. Of course, while Reagan ultimately won his party’s nomination and went on to serve two terms as president, what Bush said of his Iowa victory is relevant decades later. “Now they will be after me, howling and yowling at my heels,” began Bush, who himself played college baseball for Yale. “What we will have is momentum. We will look forward to Big Mo being on our side, as they say in athletics.” There it is – the “Big Mo!”
The impact our student athletes have on others and in their chosen professions following their days at North Dakota State has bettered the world.
Momentum. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines momentum as, “Strength or force gained by motion or by a series of events.” Events like the men’s and women’s golf teams winning Summit League titles this spring, and softball winning its fifth straight conference championship and going on to notch another win in the NCAA Tournament. Events like the men’s and women’s track and field teams capturing Summit League titles yet again. The women’s track team has won a national-best 11 consecutive outdoor conference titles. The men aren’t far behind with nine straight league outdoor titles. Combined, the teams have 30 entries in the NCAA West Preliminary Rounds. As of this writing, the Bison baseball team beat Western Illinois in the league tournament, and remain in the running for an NCAA berth. For the second straight year, NDSU won the Summit League Commissioner’s Cup Trophy, which is presented annually to the school that collects the most combined points in relationship to placement in league-sponsored sports.
And, of course, the football program captured its sixth national championship in seven years in January. Rounding out the facilities triad, NDSU was given approval in May to start raising money for a $37.2 million indoor practice facility that can be used by all sports. Renderings of the practice facility can be viewed online using Adobe Spark. “One thing that has separated Bison Athletics from other institutions across the nation is our relentless commitment to excellence,” said Matt Larsen, NDSU’s director of athletics, of the new indoor practice facility that will be located just south of the Sanford Health Athletics Complex. “A critical component for our continued success is the addition of a permanent indoor practice facility.” There is no doubt, NDSU has the Big Mo on our side.
But, just as momentum can surge, as Bush and many other candidates can attest to, it can dissipate. Bush cautioned after his early 1980 success that his opponents would be after him, howling and yowling at his heels. Likewise, NDSU’s opponents are howling and yowling at our heels. Given our success across the board, the target is on our backs. Good. Let it motivate and push us to keep building on our momentum. Newton’s Second Law states that the rate of change of momentum is directly proportional to the resultant force applied and is in the direction of the resultant force. We’ve got Big Mo on our side. Let’s keep working to keep it there. Everybody up for Big Mo, the march is on!