So last Saturday I (along with all Fargo natives) was greeted by a fabulous surprise that ESPN’s College Gameday would host their September 21st show in Fargo, North Dakota. Bison Athletics have been on a steady upward trajectory for the last 10 years and this is yet another notch in their belt. Rising from a Division 2 sports program to a Cinderella hopeful (one of the many reasons I deplore KU sports… but its ok… NDSU has had some stuff to say about them as well), Minnesota‘s bane (should have been 3 wins, but UofM got lucky in 2006), and a two time FCS national champion (tough luck Sam Houston). Hosting College Game Day is yet another step in the right direction for this program and I hope it can be a springboard to even bigger and better things (from recruiting to conference realignment).
However, it has unfortunately become a point of controversy in the city of Fargo. ESPN has chosen a site in downtown Fargo for the program which is neither near the stadium nor on campus. This has many fans (particularly students) upset, and rightfully so in its own way. As stated above I personally see this show as a reward to the Athletic Program for their achievements and therefore it initially struck me as slightly unjust that the show would be taken away from Fans, students, and the university on whole, and be made into a civic endeavor rather than a University endeavor. (I have a bit of a personal axe to grind when it comes to cities co-opting a University’s popularity as relates to the current controversy over the remodeling of the University of Kentucky basketball team’s Rupp Arena but thats a story for another time).
After thinking over the issue for all of two minutes, however, it quickly became clear to me that this shouldn’t be an issue at all. For one thing College Gameday is a TV show looking for a story, and as they’ve stated themselves they loved the view of the scenic Fargo downtown and particularly the historic Fargo Theatre because it allows them to sell Fargo as Small Town, USA. Personally I really like this narrative. Downtown Fargo and the Fargo Theatre really are beautiful and I’ve always loved walking up and down Broadway in town.
I think it will provide for a great setting for the show, and since its ESPN’s decision, NOT the University OR the city’s, I don’t have any problem in trying sell one good story alongside another (creating a “small town Fargo worldbeaters” kindof thing with this amazing sports program we have). However, it makes perfect sense to me why some fans are upset, wishing the show could be about the football fans and the football program since thats what is bringing ESPN to Fargo in the first place. Its fine that they’re upset with this, but they won’t stay upset. Ultimately everyone will support the program, the city, and the show and they will come downtown making for a wonderful experience for everyone. The gameday crew is going to have camera crews at the Bison Tailgates outside the Fargodome and I’m certain they’ll have plenty of glamour shots of the campus itself as well, so in the end no harm no foul.
What really bugs me, though, is the backlash I’ve seen from a lot of people I know back in Fargo along with some members of the media in North Dakota. They’re really coming down hard on these Bison fans, for what seems to me to be a necessary reaction. These fans take pride in their program and they want this experience to be about the program, which it should be! What especially bothers me about the complainers is that as far as the ones I know personally, none of them are football fans (or even sports fans for that matter) and they’re certainly not North Dakota State fans. For whatever reason as far as I can remember there has always been a cohort back in Fargo that really deplores NDSU sports and were much happier when they were in Division II or losing 8 games a year. I know this happens everywhere but for some reason it always really bugged me in regards to NDSU. Until the 2004 D1 jump and until Craig Bohl changed everything about Bison sports nobody but the truly passionate fans and alumni cared about anything that had to do with NDSU. Now, the fanbase has increased exponentially and so has their determination and love of their team. They travel with them in enormous packs all the way to Texas for 2 national title games and even packed Manhattan Kansas to open this season.
So frankly, it really strikes me as sour grapes when hack’s in the media criticize fans for being fans (the word fan, of course, is derived from the world ‘fanatic’ after all) and old high school friends of mine, who were never Bison fans in the first place, pile on the Debbie-downer bandwagon. Fans are going to be irrational. They’re going to be possessive about their sports teams. Its just the way this stuff works. In Ancient Byzantium during the reign of Justinian riots broke out which wrecked half of Constantinople based on which color chariot team you liked versus which color the Emperor happened to like. And lets not forget that there is currently a man in prison in Alabama for killing trees. Fans are inherently and of necessity crazy. So when some pot stirring hack whose every article seems to attack, demean, and criticize Bison fans for being some sort of irrational plebeian troglodytes, decides to repeatedly patronize fans for doing what fans do it really bugs me. This is not a time to be patronizing and petty just like its not a time to be irrational. Just look at Jeff Kolpack and Dom Izzo. You don’t have to be divisive yourself in order to talk about this issue.
The fact of the matter is, ESPN is giving an amazing gift to the city of Fargo, to Bison Athletics, and to the fans themselves. And even if the process has shown that perhaps not all fans on the new Bison Nation are as united as I’d like, I’m just glad NDSU sports have risen to a point where fans will stop to complain if they think they’re program isn’t being properly represented, whether I agree with them or not.