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Bison Game Day: ESPN and Bison football have become good friends

FARGO--At one time, you would have thought the lasting image of ESPN and North Dakota State football would have been the aerial shot during the first segment of the "College GameDay" football pregame show. After all, it's hard to beat thousands o...

Signs in the windows of the American Federal Bank welcome the ESPN College GameDay show Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014, to downtown Fargo. Dave Wallis / The Forum
Signs in the windows of the American Federal Bank welcome the ESPN College GameDay show Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014, to downtown Fargo. Dave Wallis / The Forum

FARGO-At one time, you would have thought the lasting image of ESPN and North Dakota State football would have been the aerial shot during the first segment of the "College GameDay" football pregame show. After all, it's hard to beat thousands of fans seens in Fargo's downtown streets and on rooftops.

The show-this ESPN and Bison football thing-continues to thrive.

Saturday, Aug. 27, it's prime time. Charleston Southern University (S.C.) and NDSU will play in the annual FCS Kickoff at 6:36 p.m. at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. If you're scoring at home, it will be the 14th time the Bison will have been on either ESPN or ESPN2 since the 2011 season.

That does not include two appearances on "College GameDay" and 37 games on ESPN3, the online streaming network that is becoming more popular with continued technology improvements.

"I think generally speaking, North Dakota State has done a phenomenal job on the field and earned their way on to our network," said Brent Colborne, the director of programming and acquisitions for ESPN.

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Colborne handles all of the network's FCS programming including the FCS playoffs and the FCS Kickoff series, which is now in its third year. It's the second straight year the Bison have appeared in this game on the heels of playing at the University of Montana last season.

At the current success rate, Colborne says there's no reason the FCS Kickoff won't be an annual event. It took some intensive work to get this point, specifically working with the NCAA to allow two teams to play a week earlier than everybody else. Colborne said ESPN also had to get all of the commissioners of FCS conferences and decision makers at ESPN to agree.

It's affectionately known now as "week zero" of the football season.

"It's provided a great opportunity to put the spotlight on FCS football," Colborne said.

Most of NDSU's exposure on ESPN has come in the playoffs. During the five straight FCS titles runs, three games each year were on either ESPN or ESPN2 in each of the last three years. In 2011, the Bison were on ESPNU and ESPN2 in the playoffs. The 2012 semifinals and title game were both broadcasted on ESPN2.

The NDSU semifinal games have come in prime time, and for the first time Saturday, the FCS Kickoff will be in the evening. It most likely will help in the ratings, too.

For a school like Charleston Southern, any ratings is good ratings. It will mark the first time the program has been on an ESPN main channel, a boon for exposure for a school that has a lot of competition for students in the Charleston, S.C., area with The Citadel, College of Charleston, South Carolina and Clemson.

Even so, it's hard to gauge whether national exposure on an ESPN network directly affects enrollment. Certainly, it's a positive for NDSU, Fargo and the state of North Dakota, said Laura Oster-Aaland, associate vice provost for enrollment management at NDSU. It helps with the school's image, she said.

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"But at the end of the day, students come here because of our academic programs, the fact it's affordable and a top-quality education," she said. "It's probably impossible to measure exactly, but I do feel it helps us stay strong. It can't help but generate interest."

It's interest that ESPN is tapping into-the small-city college success story in a rural state.

"It allows us to build the story around North Dakota State," Colborne said of Saturday's game. "From its preseason No. 1 ranking to the five-time defending champions, it allows us to tell the story, not only about North Dakota State but about the FCS."

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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