There has been talk this week in Grand Forks regarding the reasons North Dakota and North Dakota State have not scheduled a football game in recent years. This same discussion pops up every fall in Grand Forks and as usual, it ended the same way: We point our collective fingers south screaming “It’s their fault,” and attempt to shame North Dakota State by boasting that we still possess the Nickel Trophy as well as a dominating 62-45-3 advantage in games played. Fargo once again failed to respond, indicating that they either didn’t hear the challenge, or that they don’t care. I believe it’s the latter reason.
People I talk to all tell me: “It’s North Dakota State’s fault that the two schools aren’t competing in football.” I happen to believe it’s a little more complicated than that! It was a messy break up in 2003. When North Dakota State wanted to take the relationship to the next level, (meaning Division I) they wanted North Dakota to join them: The two would have been a great addition to any conference they wanted to be in. North Dakota got scared and instead of moving up, decided to break up instead. As anyone who has ever been dumped in a relationship knows full well, it hurts, but you are forced to move on, so you do. North Dakota State has moved on.
Is North Dakota State’s life better since the break up? They had a few difficult years at first; really missing their old steady reliable partner North Dakota. Their new chief football rival became South Dakota State, and while this relationship isn’t as impassioned as the one they once shared with North Dakota, it has served them well enough. North Dakota State has matured since the breakup and has now returned to its familiar role as a national power, only this time on a much larger stage. Like any great team, their level of play has elevated those around them, and now South Dakota State, along with the rest of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, is benefiting from their association with two time national champion North Dakota State.
What about North Dakota? They remained in the North Central Conference for a few years, saying they would rather remain a dominant force in Division II than be a lower tier Division I team. True to their prediction, they did remain a dominant Division II team, but soon discovered the thrill was gone. Like North Dakota State, they failed to establish a new rivalry with the intensity they had once shared with their neighbors to the south, and eventually followed North Dakota State up to Division I. Instead of joining the Missouri Valley Football Conference however, where annual games with North Dakota State would be guaranteed, they opted to become a part of the Big Sky Conference instead. The Big Sky is a fine conference, with powerful football programs at schools such as Montana, Montana State, and Eastern Washington.
Has North Dakota State really moved on? I believe they have. North Dakota State has become arguably the most respected football program in all of Division I FCS. North Dakota State hosted nationally televised “ESPN Game Day” this morning, the first time an FCS School has had the honor. They have won two consecutive Missouri Valley football titles and two consecutive National Championships. It is indeed great to be a Bison fan these days!
Has North Dakota moved on? I don’t think so. They are stuck in a stage of transition; desperately seeking something great to build upon. They need to move on, but seem unable to decide what even to be called. They need to establish some sort of identity, but with ever changing school colors and no nickname, they have a long way to go. Maybe that’s the reason North Dakota is clamoring for a renewal of the annual football game; it would be the return of something familiar. Don’t expect it to happen anytime soon: North Dakota State has moved on!