Schnepf: Despite dominance, Taylor says FBS move isn't coming anytime soon
FARGO -- After North Dakota State’s football team claimed yet another Division II national championship in 1986, the opposing coach was basically wishing the Bison good riddance.
“I wish the hell they would get out of Division II. They can go wherever they want,” quipped South Dakota head coach Dave Triplett after his team lost 27-7.
Well, eventually, the Bison did leave Division II. Nearly three decades later, it seems like déjà vu all over again. Much like they did at the Division II level, the Bison are now dominating the FCS level of football – fresh off their third straight national championship.
Is the day coming when an opposing coach wishes that NDSU would get the hell out of the FCS? That question sparked a chuckle from NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor.
“I don’t think so,” Taylor said. “I think the other teams have respected what North Dakota State has done and what our program brings to this level. We have brought a lot of exposure not to just NDSU, but we have brought a lot of exposure to FCS football. Yes, some people want to aspire to that but they also say, ‘hey this is great, this is great for FCS football.’ So right now, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”
And right now, Taylor doesn’t see NDSU making another move up anytime soon – even though many people continually ask him when the football program is going leave FCS and play with the big boys at the FBS level. The way NDSU dominated this year’s playoffs, outscoring its four opponents 173-42, you can bet Taylor will be asked about it even more.
What will Taylor’s answer be this time?
“Let’s see what the FBS does first,” Taylor said.
There has been talk the last few years that the powerful football programs may break away from the rest of Division I and create a super division from conferences like the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12 plus independent Notre Dame. The big schools want more freedom to be able to run their programs the way they want without the less powerful schools standing in their way.
One of the main issues lately has been disagreement among the big boys over a $2,000 stipend plan. It would be added to an athletic scholarship to help cover the full cost of attendance. The bigger schools – with athletic departments ranging from $65 million to $97 million – that could offer a stipend would enjoy a considerable advantage in recruiting over the schools that could not.
There could be a lot of discussion over this issue in this month’s conference in San Diego involving all the college’s athletic directors and presidents.
“Right now, I think they are going to try to co-exist all of us together in one Division I,” Taylor said. “If that were to change, we would have to seriously take another look at where we would have to be. But we will not be at the lowest level.”
If – and it sounds like a big if right now – the big boys would create their own division, the most affected schools would be the ones in lower-tier conferences like the Mountain West, American Athletic, Conference USA, Sun Belt and Mid America. That’s where athletic budgets range from $19 to $54 million.
If the big boys would get their way and leave, some think some of those aforementioned lower-tier schools could drop to the FCS level – joining the powers of the current FCS level like NDSU. Wouldn’t that be ironic, Craig Bohl’s Wyoming team of the Mountain West competing at the same FCS level where he made NDSU a dynasty.
It would certainly make for a much more competitive FCS playoffs – much more than this year’s playoffs anyway. The playoff field took a big hit when powerhouses like Georgia Southern and Appalachian State decided to leave FCS for the highest level.
“They’re not doing it for financial reasons, that’s a misnomer,” Northern Iowa athletic director Troy Duncan was quoted as saying last fall. “You’re going to make more money moving up, but you’re going to spend more money. I think they are doing it because of an insecurity of where FCS football is headed.”
“It’s fair to say that the continuing migration of some of the better teams in FCS into FBS is troubling,” said Patty Viverito, the commissioner of the Missouri Valley Football Conference that NDSU plays in. “But we think playing for a national championship is a lot more interesting than playing in bad bowl games with nobody present.”
Taylor agrees – especially after witnessing more than 17,000 Bison fans invade Frisco, Texas, last week to watch a third straight national championship win.
“This playoff deal is a lot of fun,” Taylor said. “I watch the bowl games around the country and you see some empty stadiums. To me, this is a lot more enjoyable right now. We’ll see what happens in the future.”
The future for NDSU football really doesn’t include conferences like the Big Ten or the Big 12 – where budgets are three to five times larger than NDSU’s and where financially lucrative television contracts are not meant for small-market places like Fargo.
The future for NDSU football – if the big boy programs opt to create their own division – looks good with a much-stronger FCS division. But it appears things may stay as they are – which means the future of NDSU football will remain what it is now.
And that seems fine with Taylor, even if his football program is dominating the FCS.
“I see it as somebody going … ‘OK, if they can do it. We can do it,’” Taylor said. “I think other teams see it as a real challenge to get better and be the next team like us to win multiple times.”
If that doesn’t happen soon, NDSU may indeed be asked to get the hell out of FCS.
Schnepf is sports editor of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is a part of Forum News Service. His NDSU media blog can be found at bisonmedia.areavoices.com.