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There's a science to NDSU's '12th man'

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FARGO -- It gets loud. We know that. For the past few years, the decibel level at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome has caused North Dakota State football coach Craig Bohl to seek headache relief at halftime.

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Last week, he took a couple of aspirin.

"That's true," he said.

If Bohl is looking for the true cause, he can blame reverberance. That's the technical term that fits the best, said the interim chair of the NDSU department of architecture and landscape architecture. Ganapathy Mahalingam earned his Ph.D. at the University of Florida with a doctoral dissertation on auditorium design.

"Because the dome has a huge volume and most of the surfaces are hard, reflective surfaces, there's a lot of reverberance in that space," he said. "That's what causes the noise level to go up during a game."

So there you have it. That is the reason why an 18,700-seat indoor stadium that balloons to more than 19,000 with standing-room tickets can be louder than 85,000-seat stadiums like the one Mahalingam used to go to when he went to football games at Florida.

It's why the Bison defense practices with simulated crowd noise during the week, so they can affectively relay hand signals to teammates while the opposing team's offense is trying to do its thing.

Sometimes, even that isn't enough. Junior Grant Olson, who as the middle linebacker is responsible for making quick adjustments, said sometimes panic sets in.

How loud is it?

"The guy standing next to you can't hear what you're saying," Olson said.

It's so loud that when Bison defensive linemen have to communicate to each other, they're taught to relay the message from the teammate next to them. In other words, nose guard Ryan Drevlow can't shout anything to defensive end Cole Jirik.

"It has to be one to one to one, because if the guy on the right side is saying something, that doesn't mean the guy on the other side will hear it," Drevlow said.

NDSU is expecting another sellout crowd of around 18,700 for the Division I Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinal game today. The Bison have attracted at least 18,000 fans in 14 of their last 15 home games, sparking speculation on dome expansion.

Fargodome general manager Rob Sobolik said he gets asked that question weekly during the football season. He said it's possible to build four super support columns on the outside of the building, build a new roof and get rid of the four support columns inside.

But the cost would be enormous -- $100 to $150 million, maybe more -- and the building would have to be shut down for a long period of time. In other words, it probably won't happen.

NDSU has not had discussions with the Fargo Dome Authority on expansion. It's also tough to gauge how many tickets NDSU would sell this week if it had a bigger venue. The season-ticket base surpassed 12,000 this year, but the Bison are also in the midst of No. 1 rankings and a FCS national title last year.

"Would we sell 25,000? I don't know," NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor said. "Today, I think we could get over 20,000 consistently, but 25,000? I don't know."

Sobolik said there are several arenas around the country that are built "under capacity" because of the sellout factor. He points to the University of Minnesota's Mariucci Arena and Gonzaga's 2004-built basketball facility, which seats 6,000.

That's 6,000 people who make a lot of noise. At NDSU, 19,000 works just fine.

"Let's just say, I'm pretty glad I'm the quarterback here and don't have to come and play here," said Bison junior Brock Jensen. "Being an opposing quarterback has to be extremely difficult. I've talked to other (quarterbacks) after games and they just shake their head."

Sobolik said it would be even louder, but the dome has acoustical panels above the seats and in the corners to help absorb sound.

The loudest stadium in all of college football is generally considered to be LSU's Tiger Stadium. Besides the rabid fans, one theory is the steep pitch of the seats and Louisiana's humidity help keep the noise inside.

Bohl, who has coached at several major programs and has been in stadiums all over the country, points to Texas A&M as a great college venue. A&M started its "12th Man" tradition in the 1920s, and the term has taken a different meaning across the country as a home crowd that makes a difference.

It has in Fargo.

"I love it when it's loud out there," said Bison safety Christian Dudzik. "It's an adrenaline rush."

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