(STATS) – On the same night North Dakota State qualified for the FCS Championship Game two weeks ago, Mount Union captured the Division III national title for the 12th time since 1993.
If nothing else, it served as a reminder that resistance comes by the dozen (national titles).
Mount Union hasn’t left D-III behind for a higher level of competition, even though the temptation has been there.
If it was just a football decision, then perhaps the Purple Raiders might have made a move upward.
But as the to-be-FBS-or-not-to-be decision moves closer for North Dakota State with each FCS national championship, it’s not just about football.
The Bison will try to claim a record fifth straight FCS title on Jan. 9 against Jacksonville State. Either way, the topic of the Bison leaving the second-highest level in college football for the FBS won’t go away any time soon.
The pressure for an NDSU move hasn’t just grown because it appears to be the next obvious challenge for the Bison. Also factoring in is the FCS is lessening in strength with some of its national powers (Appalachian State and Georgia Southern in 2014) and growing powers (Old Dominion in 2013 as well as Coastal Carolina in 2017) leaving for the FBS.
NDSU alumni and fans fear their school will wait too long with a move upward in the swirling Division I landscape. Unlike them, though, NDSU administrators have to be more patient with their approach.
While Appalachian State and Georgia Southern have enjoyed quick success in their first two seasons in the FBS – in a Sun Belt Conference considered the bottom of 10-conference FBS – no school is going to replicate Boise State’s FCS-to-FBS success. So a jump up still involves a school accepting being a smaller fish in the larger FBS pond.
That idea is acceptable to most schools because the money, especially through television dollars, is immense in the FBS compared to the FCS.
Along the way toward decision day, NDSU has taken calculated steps, including this summer’s announcement that it will add full cost of attendance dollars (academic-related supplies, transportation and other similar items) to its 16 sports – something only Liberty had previously instituted in the FCS.
At this point, it appears prudent for NDSU to remain patient to see if college football will undergo an even more drastic change in the near future. Smaller moves have slowed; the chief question today is whether the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) break off on their own.
If so, the bottom five FBS conferences (AAC, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt) may have no choice but to merge with at least the higher-tier FCS conferences, such as NDSU’s Missouri Valley Football Conference.
Any NDSU decision extends way beyond the Bison football dynasty just increasing from the 63-scholarship maximum of the FCS to the 85 of the FBS. The Bison have to meet Title IX obligations, raise their fundraising substantially and fund an entire athletic budget that currently operates at around $20 million annually.
Their athletic program and national brand are thriving, much like the North Dakota economy, so signs point to NDSU having what it takes for FBS success off the field as well as on. Not all of the factors are ideal, though: Fargo isn’t a great fit geographically for potential suitors such as the Big 12 and Mountain West Conference, and the Fargodome that fits just under 19,000 isn’t overly compatible for expansion (try telling Oklahoma it’s playing there).
But the truth is, the FBS will have a demand for North Dakota State in the future as much as today, so there’s no reason for the FCS power to rush to judgment.
Even if the Bison win a fifth straight national title.