GRAND FORKS — Rekindling the football series between the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State is exciting for the state’s fans, but Saturday’s game in Fargo is just part of a new relationship between two longtime adversaries, UND President Joshua Wynne says.
Wynne was one of four deans from the two research universities who penned a letter to The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in 2017, declaring that UND’s decision to join the Missouri Valley Football Conference is nice, but growing a stronger relationship between the research universities is better yet.
“Don’t get us wrong. … We believe in competition and believe that it can stimulate each institution to even greater achievements,” said the letter, published Feb. 3, 2017, and written by Wynne, former UND College of Engineering and Mines Dean Hesham El-Rewini, NDSU College of Health Professions Dean Charles Peterson and NDSU College of Engineering Dean Gary Smith. “But there is a place for competition and a place for collaboration. It’s one thing to compete on the gridiron, but we are proud of the collaboration and cooperation that is ongoing – and growing between UND and NDSU in areas where it really matters: That’s in the education and research arena that can improve the lives of students and indeed all citizens living in North Dakota.”
Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Fargodome.
Wynne, continuing a tradition begun by former UND President Mark Kennedy, participated in a weekly conference call Friday with the Grand Forks Herald. During the conversation, he said he is excited about the game in Fargo, but also cited the letter he helped write in 2017 and reiterated that the football matchup should be viewed as just a single chapter in a new era for both universities.
“There are important areas where the two universities need to work together for the public good,” he said during Friday’s conference call. “Competition on the athletic field and in certain defined areas is a good thing. So I’m very enthusiastic about that. I just don’t want it to overwhelm the complementary idea that in education, in service to the community, etc., we actually work together and we do so effectively.”
An example came last year, when Kennedy and NDSU President Dean Bresciani worked together in hopes of convincing the Legislature to make a large financial commitment to research at UND and NDSU. It was viewed as a unique effort: The presidents of universities that have been viewed as educational and athletic rivals, touring the state and promoting a common cause. Providing more funding for research, the presidents argued, would improve the North Dakota universities' standing among the nation’s research universities.
The pitch didn’t necessarily work – the Legislature did not pass the presidents’ proposal – but it was a rare unified approach nonetheless.
In the 2017 letter published in The Forum, Wynne and the other authors also noted that NDSU and UND "have programs that share a commonality of instruction in basic principles and concepts, but specialization tracks that are unique." They also pointed to collaborative work between the universities' engineering colleges.
Saturday's game renews the longtime rivalry on what likely will be a permanent basis. The teams played each other each season for more than a century until 2003, when NDSU chose to move up from NCAA Division II to Division I. Over the next dozen years, the teams didn’t play; that changed with a nonconference game in 2015 in Fargo.
In 2017, UND opted to leave the Big Sky Conference and join the Missouri Valley Football Conference, meaning NDSU and UND will resume the rivalry on a yearly basis. The game is not a conference game – UND doesn’t officially join the MVFC until next season – but it does provide a glimpse of what is to come.
For Wynne, the longtime vice president for UND Health Affairs, it will mark his first UND football game since becoming the university’s interim president in June. He had a family obligation last week that kept him from attending UND’s season-opener against Drake.
Saturday, he will watch as a guest in the NDSU president’s suite. He said he will be clad in UND attire and does not plan to stifle his enthusiasm for the Fighting Hawks.
“I think it’s terrific. There is a lot of enthusiasm,” he said of the game. “I like when people wear their colors. It’s really good to hear that the public is passionate about what they consider ‘their’ universities. That’s wonderful and I’m very excited about it. It reaffirms our importance in the community on all sorts of levels.
“I’m an athlete and I compete hard and want to win. But at the same time, we need to work as a team, for the good of North Dakota.”