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For NDSU, football schedule stacked with indoor games

FARGO -- North Dakota State University moved into the top spot in the FCS Playoff Committee rankings earlier this week heading into the last regular season game. The Bison are also tops in another, less official, category: Most domed stadiums played.

The DakotaDome is the home for the University of South Dakota football team. University of South Dakota photo
The DakotaDome is the home for the University of South Dakota football team. University of South Dakota photo
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FARGO - North Dakota State University moved into the top spot in the FCS Playoff Committee rankings earlier this week heading into the last regular season game. The Bison are also tops in another, less official, category: Most domed stadiums played.

NDSU plays at the University of South Dakota today, which will be its eighth indoor game this season. The Bison haven't played outdoors since an Oct. 22 trip to Western Illinois University.

"It's nicer because you don't have to worry about the outside elements like wind, rain or snow or anything like that," said Bison center Austin Kuhnert.

The slate includes six games at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome, one at the UNI-Dome at Northern Iowa and the USD game at the DakotaDome in Vermillion, S.D. It's about as many regular season indoor games as a team could possibly get in Division I FCS football thanks to road games at UNI and USD.

South Dakota, UNI and Idaho State are both playing six indoor games this season and the University of North Dakota and Northern Arizona five each. In NDSU's case, the schedule fit almost perfectly for indoor football with road games at the two other domed stadiums in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and two of the three non-conference games at the Fargodome.

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"Pretty much all year we're in a dome and that's what we're used to," said Bison quarterback Easton Stick. "They're all similar, but maybe the turf is a little bit different."

There are six FCS teams with domed arenas and age is not on their side. Four of them - Idaho State, UNI, USD and Northern Arizona - opened in the 1970s. The Fargodome was completed in 1993 and the Alerus Center in Grand Forks opened in 2001.

"There are not many domes built anymore, certainly not in the college ranks," said USD athletic director David Herbster.

The brick, concrete and steel Fargodome is not going away anytime soon. General manager Rob Sobolik, in citing a long-term capital plan from 2006-07, said the main envelope of the concrete structure was tabbed to last between 75 to 100 years. The interior elements of the dome carry around a 50-year span, he said.

"We've continuously been upgrading the building so we're not going to have to do a major renovation," said Fargo city commissioner Dave Piepkorn. "So I'm proud of our staff for doing that."

Piepkorn's vision includes moving the Gate City Bank Theatre setup in the dome to a renovated downtown Civic Center to give the dome more flexibility. He likes the idea of an addition that would connect to the Sanford Health Athletic Complex via a skyway.

"We could work with NDSU and you could host a ton of things," Piepkorn said.

USD, which just built a new basketball arena, is in the process of developing a renovation concept for the DakotaDome with the aim of adding more seating and suite areas. With basketball and volleyball out of the dome and into their new facility, the dome has unused space.

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"We have to re-program and re-purpose all of that space," Herbster said.

Herbster said a structural analysis indicated the DakotaDome is good for at least another 50 years, although it's hard to estimate the life of an enclosed arena. According to Money magazine, most NFL stadiums have a lifespan of nearly 50 years although a recent influx of new stadiums has reduced that to 31 years.

It should be noted that most stadiums are not being demolished these days because they're structurally unfit but more to accommodate the modern amenities crowds have come to expect.

The DakotaDome is 37 years old and has already gone through a major renovation replacing its old teflon roof with a more permanent structure in 2001, which at the time estimates said would be good for at least another 60 years, according to the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan newspaper. What happens when the domed stadiums built in the 1970s are no longer deemed fit?

"Looking long term, at what point do we consider building an outdoor stadium?" Herbster said.

Without the aid of public money like the half-cent sales tax used to fund the Fargodome, it's highly unlikely any FCS school could build a dome anymore. The DakotaDome cost $8.2 million. Half of the $8 million Northern Arizona dome, for instance, was funded by student fees. Idaho State approved $2.8 million in student fees in 1968 for its football venue.

Just the cost alone would be frightening. It's hundreds of millions these days, if not a billion, for a covered NFL stadium. Scale it back to a FCS-sized indoor stadium and it still would be in the hundreds of millions.

Jackson State (Miss.), for instance, is trying to orchestrate a 50,000-seat indoor venue at a cost of $200 million using 14 different revenue streams. And that estimate was two years ago.

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Regardless, in today's world and specifically on Saturday, the Bison will have to deal with the noise that a full DakotaDome could present. The Bison offense worked on the silent count in practice this week but they do every week because loud crowd noise is pumped over the dome sound system so the Bison defense can adequately prepare for its own crowd.

"UNI is pretty deafening in there when it gets loud," Kuhnert said. "But this is my first time at USD and I'm sure we'll use the silent count."

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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