Disappearing act: Big Ten mandate means NDSU will no longer see a team like Iowa

FARGO--It was in the summer of 2015 when Big Ten Conference commissioner Jim Delany laid down the scheduling law that left every Division I FCS school within reasonable driving distance of a Big Ten school in a bad mood. Don't even think about co...

North Dakota State's Christon Dallas
North Dakota State University's Christon Dallas celebrates his team's win against the University of Minnesota Saturday in Minneapolis, Minn. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO-It was in the summer of 2015 when Big Ten Conference commissioner Jim Delany laid down the scheduling law that left every Division I FCS school within reasonable driving distance of a Big Ten school in a bad mood. Don't even think about coming to one of our houses, the mandate read.

The curtain will close on North Dakota State's brief dalliance with the Big Ten on Saturday, Sept. 17, when the Bison visit the University of Iowa. It will be the Bison's fourth game with a Big Ten opponent following three memorable trips to Minneapolis to the play the University of Minnesota.

NDSU has tried to kindle a Big Ten matchup over the years, but the doors are closed for the foreseeable future.

"We're not even trying at this point," said NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen. "I think the commissioner Jim Delany has been pretty clear on what their philosophy is so we haven't reached out to them."

Delany's philosophy centers on getting a Big Ten team in position to qualify for the College Football Playoff-strength of schedule matters. The conference went to a nine-game league schedule and a commitment to play major intersectional games, although it may take awhile before it becomes a reality.


This year, you could make the case NDSU's other non-conference games are tougher than Iowa's.

In the USA Sagarin Ratings, a power poll that has been around since the 1980s in which a lower rating is better, the average rating of NDSU's three non-league opponents is 81. The average of Iowa's three non-Big Ten foes is 102 with NDSU being the best at 67 followed by Iowa State at 104 and Miami (Ohio) at 135.

NDSU's non-conference schedule, is comparable to Alabama's in the Sagarin rankings. Alabama's four non-Southeastern Conference opponents have an average ranking of 79 and that includes FCS Chattanooga at 89.

If strength of schedule is a prime criteria for a College Football Playoff spot, the SEC doesn't seem to be concerned about FCS competition. The Crimson Tide player Mercer in 2017 and The Citadel in 2018. LSU plays Southeastern Louisiana in 2017 and Chattanooga in 2018. Missouri plays Tennessee-Martin in 2018 and Southeast Missouri State in 2019.

Iowa has Iowa State as a non-conference opponent every year. The Hawkeyes are playing Wyoming and North Texas next season and still have FCS Northern Iowa on the schedule for 2018 while Minnesota and South Dakota State agreed to a game in 2019. Both those contracts were signed before the scheduling edict.

Otherwise, the FCS is being erased from Big Ten schedules.

"They didn't ask for my opinion on that one when they made the decision," said Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. "I'm sure there were really good reasons for it. Our commissioner does not do things by accident. But to that point, we played Illinois State a year ago coming off that tough loss to North Dakota State in the championship. Two years ago we played UNI. So the caliber of football that those schools play, we know firsthand playing those two teams the last two years and now we're playing a team that's the better than those two teams. We're going to have our hands more than full."

Iowa certainly stands to be the best of NDSU's 12 FBS opponents in the school's Division I era. The Hawkeyes are ranked 11th in the USA Today coaches poll. Kansas State was ranked just outside the USA Today top 25 in the 2013 preseason poll when the Bison faced the Wildcats.


Of NDSU's five straight wins vs. FBS competition, only Kansas State had a decent year the Bison played them. The Wildcats won six of their last seven to finish 8-5. Otherwise, Kansas was 3-9 in 2010, Minnesota had the same record in 2011, Colorado State went 4-8 in 2013 and Iowa State was 2-10 in 2014.

Moreover, of NDSU's eight wins against the FBS, only K-State and Central Michigan in 2007 (8-6) had winning records. The winning percentage of NDSU's opponents in the 11 wins was .343 (34-65).

Iowa went 12-2 last year, lost to Michigan State 16-13 in the Big Ten championship game, but still earned a berth in the Rose Bowl.

These are not your Gophers of 2007 or 2011. Regardless, it will be the last sighting of a Big Ten team on NDSU's schedule, unless the policy changes.

"I don't care what the end result is, it's great for our guys to have the opportunity to play," said Bison head coach Chris Klieman. "It's great for Illinois State to have the opportunity to go to Northwestern or Northern Iowa to go to Iowa. Or Indiana State to go to Minnesota. Those things are so valuable from a finance part of it for starters, to be able to generate revenue for your program and most importantly have your fan base and have your families be able to go to those games. That's what I'm going to miss.

"That's the thing that gets lost a little bit is we have some great games down the line to go to Oregon and Colorado but I know that if I'm a family that maybe doesn't have all the means that somebody else does, I can get to Iowa City. I can get to Minneapolis. Or Ames. We're still going to recruit regionally and I wish we could play those FBS games regionally so that the families of our players can get there. I know our fans are going to get there."

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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