One True Champion and No True Winners: The Big 12 and a Return to Realignment

Ahem... there seems to be an incongruity with your little cardboard signs sirs...

Ahem… there seems to be an incongruity with your little cardboard signs sirs…

Its bowl season again. Time to watch Whatstatearetheyin University square off against Ididn’tknowtheyhadafootballteam State. But this year there’s a little twist added to the shenanigans. This is the first year of the College Football Playoff, which, in its current composition, only contains 4 teams: Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Ohio State. Now, if you’ve been following college football all year you already knew that, but what you also knew is that this list was conspicuously missing two major, yearlong contenders for playoff spots: TCU and Baylor.

Even though TCU had leapt up to #3 in the Playoff Committee’s rankings before the final week of the season, and even though Baylor had a win over TCU, and the same 11-1 record as them, both Big 12 Schools were left wanting. This appears to have been a result of the Playoff Committee’s decision to place a major emphasis on “Conference Champions” when picking their Chosen Four. Moreover, even though the Big 12 attempted to declare TCU and Baylor “Co-Champions” the Committee wasn’t buying it.

[One True Champion! Unless of course we think we can sneak 2 teams into the Playoff… wait, we’re getting 0 in?!]

The Committee want their playoff teams to play in, and win, a Conference Title Game. And with only 10 teams in the Big 12 (a result of the 2012 Great Conference Reshuffle) the Big 12 is not allowed to have a Conference Title Game (per ridiculous NCAA rule #92183475).

So its too late for either of the Big 12’s power teams this year, but if the conference doesn’t want to be competing at a disadvantage into perpetuity (or at least until someone gets their act together and realizes that a 16 team (or at LEAST 8) playoff is the ideal anyway, the Big 12 is going to have to seriously consider expanding back to 12 teams (hurray for sensible names!).

So because I love conference realignment (because it gives me hope that NDSU will have an opportunity to hop up into an FBS conference) let’s take a look where the fake Big 12 could turn to become that actual Big 12.

The first and most logical place for the Big 12 to look in its poaching is the Mountain West Conference. The Mountain West is far and away the best “Non-Power Five” Conference for football. Their members consistently out perform members of Power Five Conferences, and have been known to win many big games against even the best of the Power Five.

You’ll also notice that two of those former MWC champions in the above videos (TCU and Utah) are no longer in the MWC, but have been poached by bigger conferences (The Big 12 and PAC 12 respectively). So it seems to make the most sense that the Big 12 would first look to the Mountain West (it is both a geographic match and competitive match) to expand its conference.

As far as I see it there are 4 Mountain West teams that may be competitive enough to succeed in the Big 12 (Air Force is very competitive, but with their unique recruiting restrictions [anyone who wants to go to Air Force to play football also has to want to… y’know… join the Air Force for 7 years] I don’t think they’d be a fit for the Big 12).

The first is Boise State. Competitively speaking they are obviously the first choice. They have made a habit of beating Big 12 schools in recent years (including the infamous Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma) and have been relevant on a national stage for a decade now. However, they never seem to be a target by any large conferences, which I have to imagine stems in large part from their isolated geography. Now, I won’t put any kind of geographic inanity past the Big 12 after they moronically allowed West Virginia into their conference, but I can’t imagine they want to make that mistake twice.

The next best Flavor of the Day would be Colorado State. They’re a better geographic fit than Boise. They have the student population and endowments to fit in with the Big 12. They are consistently competitive in both the big money college sports (Men’s Basketball and College Football). And this year they made a good deal of noise on the national scene… however, that noise was primarily because they were losing their head coach to Florida. So if the Big 12 pulled the trigger on Colorado State, they’d likely be buying high and may regret it as CSU is perhaps set to regress slightly for the next couple seasons.

csu

Utah State would also be a great option. They fit geographically. Have the endowments and students to match Big 12 programs. They’re consistently competitive in both Football and Basketball. The same could be said about Nevada (although they’re a far inferior geographic fit). Neither of these schools has major clout in the public consciousness though which could scare off the Big 12 if they don’t want to be perceived as diluting their conference.

However, its entirely possible that the MWC teams hold together. The MWC commissioner made impassioned pleas to strip the collapsing Big East of their automatic qualifier status and grant it to the Mountain West when the big conference shakeups were going on. And even though the BCS is now gone, and that battle was therefore removed from the equation, it could rear up again. If Conference Titles matter as much as they seem to to the Committee, we could eventually move toward an 8 team playoff where the Power 5 each get an Automatic Qualification for their Champion, and there is no reason to believe the MWC won’t fight for (and perhaps receiver) the same status. So anyway, let’s take a look at a couple other options if noone from the MWC wants to make the leap.

I think BYU is very serious about remaining independent (Notre Dame of the West I guess…), but I can’t imagine they wouldn’t at least consider a move to the Big 12 if asked. Moreover, this move would allow the Big 12 and their potential target to skip a lot of red tape, as they don’t need to remove a team from its current conference, but rather simply need to add an independent. Add in the fact that BYU has major football pedigree, and they’d seem like a great match.

BYU wouldn't get bowled over in the Big 12 because they don't let anyone stand in their way... not even the refs... image via http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865590303/BYUs-Hoffman-scores-2-touchdowns-breaks-another-record.html?pg=all

BYU wouldn’t get bowled over in the Big 12 because they don’t let anyone stand in their way… not even the refs… image via http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865590303/BYUs-Hoffman-scores-2-touchdowns-breaks-another-record.html?pg=all

After that the contenders start to look a lot worse. SMU has football history (not all of it good), and they’re located in the Big 12’s backyard, but they’ve been atrocious of late. Tulsa could possibly grow to compete in the Big 12 but I imagine if they joined tomorrow they’d spend the better part of a decade getting beaten down (perhaps a bottom dwellers rivalry with Kansas is in the works!).

At the end of the day, all these schools have arguments for and against their joining the Big 12. Moreover, the Big 12 may not even decide to expand at all. But if they want to erase the risk of having two playoff caliber teams left out of competition like this year, they may be better safe than sorry, and may get to play kingmaker for one of these well deserving schools.

(Photo Credit North Dakota State Athletics)

(Photo Credit North Dakota State Athletics)

But now, because I am an enormous homer, I have a quick aside which of course involves NDSU. Conference shakeups always get me excited that maybe the guys running NDSU will decide to be proactive and push to join an FBS conference. Now I’m not saying NDSU will be targeted by the Big 12 (they wont… even though it may be a pipe dream of mine…) or even that they’ll be able to join the Mountain West to replace a hypothetically poached team (another dream of mine), but when one conference makes a move (in this case the Big 12) the repercussions always flow downhill, which means that eventually, at the end of the road there could be an FBS conference looking for a new team, and NDSU could fit the bill perfectly.

I’ve talked about this time and again so I’ll keep this short but heres the issue. The conferences lower down in FBS (and therefore closer to NDSU’s current status) aren’t good geographic fits for the Bison at all (Sun Belt, Conference USA) OR if they are a good geographic fit, they are not likely to lose teams in this Big 12 shakeup (MAC) which means NDSU likely won’t benefit from this change.

The larger shame is that the two conferences which form the bulk of this discussion (The Big 12 and the Mountain West) both would form excellent geographic homes for NDSU. While competing in the Big 12 would be difficult it would be nowhere near impossible as NDSU has beaten both Kansas State and Iowa State in back to back years, and Kansas a couple years before that. Moreover, NDSU could come in and compete immediately in the Mountain West. They would absolutely feast on the bottom tier of the Mountain West (Wyoming, Hawaii, San Jose State, UNLV, New Mexico) and at least compete with the best (although it would take several years of growth before NDSU could consistently beat the Boise’s or the Utah State’s of the world. And other than Hawaii the geographic concerns wouldn’t be the end of the world (NDSU already travels to southern California on multiple occasions for small sports such as track etc).

In any event both these conferences would make great homes for the Bison. But that will likely not be coming any time in the near future (MWC) or any time at all (Big 12). These conferences would need new teams that could begin playing right now, and if NDSU moved to the FBS there would be an initial ban on postseason play (just as there was when the Bison went from DII to DI FCS in the first place). These two conferences are not “starter” conferences. These are finished products. They’re not in the business of doing a favor for a school which is just now moving out of the FCS ranks, regardless of how successful that school may be.

I don’t know what needs to happen to pull NDSU up to the FBS ranks, but I’m getting pretty sick of waiting, and I hope this new shakeup happens, and opens some doors for the Bison.

Klieman Mountains Isn’t Easy

So we’ve come to the end of Chris Klieman’s first regular season as head coach of the North Dakota State Bison. And if I do say so myself, things don’t look too shabby. The Bison finished 11-1 (with yet another win over an FBS school, this time Iowa State). Moreover, this isn’t exactly a case of a championship roster remaining intact while only the Head Coach changes. In truth while the players can all be accredited to Bohl in large part, this team is largely devoid of myriad key starters from the 3-peat teams Bohl put together. The star, starting quarterback, Brock Jensen, is gone along with Marcus Williams and Billy Turner (now with the Jets and Dolphins respectively) starting running back Sam Ojuri, star linebacker Grant Olson, go to receiver Ryan Smith, and a veritable cornucopia of other guys. So while Bohl certainly didn’t leave the cupboards bare, it was up to Klieman to build a new title contender out of these parts. The “team” of Bohl was certainly not left intact.

(Photo Credit - Tony Guitierrez, AP)

(Photo Credit – Tony Guitierrez, AP)

So all in all I’m quite pleased with Klieman’s 11-1 record. The one loss came against UNI which, although not excusable, is at least understandable considering the circumstances. UNI plays NDSU tough every single year. Although they aren’t always sitting at the top of the division they always play NDSU tough. Indeed, they might have, historically, the best football program in the Missouri Valley Football Conference (the best FCS conference by far). Since 1985 (the year the MVFC began playing football again) UNI has won 16!!! conference titles. The next highest total by any school? 5. And while NDSU has won 4 titles running, they’re still newcomers to the league by UNIs standards, and UNI just wants to remind us of that on occasion.

Photo Credit MATTHEW PUTNEY / Courier Photo Editor

Photo Credit MATTHEW PUTNEY / Courier Photo Editor

So anyway, its incredibly hard to play AT UNI and this year we couldn’t pull off the win unfortunately. O’well. As much as I wanted Klieman to get an undefeated season during his first year as coach, he’s still 11-1 and split the conference title with Illinois State (also a 1 loss team with, guess who… UNI as their only loss). Now, while this kindof freaks me out as an aside (Klieman’s alma mater is UNI, and if we’re gonna lost to them it makes me worry that, if the job ever came open, Klieman would leave the Bison to return to his hometown of Waterloo Iowa) even though it probably shouldn’t (Mark Farley is only 51, and also a UNI guy so unless an FBS job comes calling he’ll probably be there another 10 years) none of this changes the fact that Klieman appears to have been the right choice for this job.

UNI has an elite program and not only are they Klieman's alma mater, they're his hometown team. He was born and raised in Waterloo Iowa going to Panthers games. (Photo Credit MATTHEW PUTNEY / Courier Photo Editor)

UNI has an elite program and not only are they Klieman’s alma mater, they’re his hometown team. He was born and raised in Waterloo Iowa going to Panthers games. So there must have been some mixed emotions walking off the field in the UNI Dome with the first L of his NDSU Career. (Photo Credit MATTHEW PUTNEY / Courier Photo Editor)

However, all isn’t quite perfect in paradise. First and foremost, regular season wins and conference titles are fantastic, but what I think all Bison Football fans want is that fourth straight title. No school in FCS history has every won 4 straight, and as a protest to our backwards thinking boosters at NDSU who wouldn’t allow the school to go to the FBS when we had the chance in 2004, I’d love to be the first school to achieve this. So while I don’t mean to downplay what Klieman has done so far, really he hasn’t done anything yet. I realize thats an incredibly unfair way to judge a new headcoach (win a national title in your first year or you suck) its just kindof the way I think about it.

klieman and boh

More importantly, however, is the fact that the team hasn’t always looked right this season. Under Bohl the team was the absolute picture of discipline and execution. NDSU never made stupid mistakes. Rarely committed penalties and helped the other team, and simply put their nose to the ground, ran the ball, and ground their opponents into flour (yay! Farm Jokes!!).

This is what discipline and hard work get you. (Image via Bison Illustrated)

This is what discipline and hard work get you. (Image via Bison Illustrated)

This year, however, the Bison just look off. On offense they can still grind opponents down with 6 yard rush followed by 5 yard rush, followed by 15 yard rush. Its the same formula. However, it feels like every third play they O line will hold, or false start, or something that erases the play and sets the team back. This was the formula that got us the L at Northern Iowa. Now, it didn’t result in repeated losses this year (obviously) and it didn’t even seem to slow the team down (of their 11 wins, 7 of them were by 20 points or more, INCLUDING the Iowa State win). NDSU still seems to dominate people, much the way Mississippi State was playing earlier this season. They were both just so much more talented and better than their opponents that they were constantly able to make stupid plays and mistakes and not just get the win in spite of this, but DOMINATE their opponents in spite of this.

NDSU has absolutely dominated in almost every game they played this year, even with mountains of mistakes. However, UNI proved we're not perfect, and wins against FBS schools don't matter come playoff time. (Photo Credit: Steven Branscombe, USA TODAY Sports)

NDSU has absolutely dominated in almost every game they played this year, even with mountains of mistakes. However, UNI proved we’re not perfect, and wins against FBS schools don’t matter come playoff time. (Photo Credit: Steven Branscombe, USA TODAY Sports)

However, when you run into a disciplined team, as was the case when NDSU squared off against UNI, things don’t look so peachy. As far as talent is concerned the Bison are clearly still the best team in FCS, and honestly a veeeery good team by FBS standards (Sagarin has them ranked #37 right now ahead of neighboring powers like Minnesota and Iowa) but the execution terrifies me.

ndsu sagarin

If you can screw it up during the regular season against a UNI team that finished 8-4, what happens when you start playing the best teams in the FCS during the playoffs. Like I already said, we all want this 4th title, but stupid mistakes me keep it out of our hands, and may rob us of an opportunity that I doubt will ever come again (a chance to win 4 straight).

Moreover, this whole issue of discipline really confuses me because I don’t see Klieman as an undisciplined coach. He knows how to run a program and has been a part of a winning one for a long time now. He learned under Bohl and is somewhat of a hand picked successor to him (although Bohl wanted Klieman to head to Wyoming with him rather than become head coach at NDSU, which only speaks to how important and skilled Klieman really is).Maybe its just youth. Like we already discussed NDSU lost more seniors off last years team than the number of pairs of glasses Velma lost on Scooby Doo’s 50 year run on television.

velma

 

Young teams make mistakes and that’s fine. If this is what a young Klieman team looks like, where they make tons of mistakes but are physically dominant most of the time, then I can’t wait for us to figure it out and get back to our disciplined ways. It scares me that this team didn’t seem to learn its lesson after the Northern Iowa loss though. You would think losing their 33 game win streak would have been enough to snap some sense into them, but even last Saturday in the Youngstown State game, a game they dominated and their last chance at a tune up before the playoffs start, they were STILL making all kinds of mental mistakes and stupid decisions throughout the game. This really terrifies me heading into the playoffs where all the teams are good.

(Photo Credit North Dakota State Athletics)

(Photo Credit North Dakota State Athletics)

With all that said, however, I just worry that this year’s playoff run represents a once in a lifetime opportunity. If we aren’t going to be allowed to compete in the FBS, then this is really what I have going for me. I hope the players all understand that this is the kind of opportunity that never comes again and they get their act together for the playoff run. They already cost themselves homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with that one loss, dropping themselves from the #1 overall seed to #2. They’ve given themselves an uphill battle in every game this year, and now its carried over to their path to a title. It didn’t have to be this hard, but they made it this way. I just hope with the added pressure of playoff season and the chance to make history, they don’t crack under the weight. I hope we prove that NDSU football is a program, not just a coach. I think it IS a program of dominance and Klieman and this crop of guys ARE every bit as good as their predecessors. Now I just hope they prove that to the rest of the world and go make history.

Photo Credit Bison Illustrated

Photo Credit Bison Illustrated

Rebuilding the Hard Way: First Impressions on the Dave Richman Era

My Alma Mater is the University of Kentucky. As such I couldn’t help but become a big Kentucky Basketball fan. Now, I bring this up because this has given me a wealth of knowledge of what rebuilding a basketball program year after year, both in terms of replacing the coach and replacing the players, looks like. However, my view of these areas is CERTAINLY tainted by my school of choice, as in no way to they represent your average college basketball school.

The coaching transition I watched was that of the Billy Gillispie Dumpster Fire to the Calipari Renaissance.

billy g dumpster fire

BW5lmntCIAAZyOb-500x6661

I TELL YOU MAH BROTHERS AND SISTAHS I HAVE SEEN THE LIGHT AND IT IS BLUUUUUUUUUUUEEE!!!!

 

This isn’t exactly how all coaching changes go. You don’t often go from “bottom of a bottomless barrel” to the Peak of Mount Olympus the very next year. Sometimes you go from Dumpster Fire to Just Crap or Good Team to Contender with a coaching change, but usually you don’t get to skip all 47 steps in between. So obviously the transition from Saul Phillips to Richman wasn’t going to look like that. The rebuild was also not going to look the same as Calipari’s roster overhauls. Y’see… when Cal rebuilds his roster, which he does every single year, he does it with Freshmen. But Cal’s Freshmen generally have about as much in common with your standard incoming Freshman basketball player as they do with Jennifer Aniston or this Taco Bell Chalupa I’m eating right now.

chalupa aniston

Cal is bringing in Freshmen who could be in the NBA rather than college which means that although he still has to deal with growing pains, he can (hopefully) nullify this effect through sheer weight of talent. Most college basketball programs aren’t this lucky. Which brings me to first year head coach for the Bison Men’s basketball team, Dave Richman.

The 2013-14 team was the best team in the history of Bison Basketball. Unfortunately for members of the loyal Herd, however, the team lost its Head Coach, Saul Phillips, and 6 seniors (including their two best players) after last season. Oh, and just for good measure our AD left to become the vice AD at Iowa… y’know… just to round things out. By all accounts this hinted at a rocky road forthcoming.

Unfortunately I have a sneaking suspicion that our rocky road will be infinitely less refreshing and delicious than this...

Unfortunately I have a sneaking suspicion that our rocky road will be infinitely less refreshing and delicious than this…

So, I prepared myself for a step or two backwards from the program with the full knowledge that eventually the program would be back on the right track. I had faith because for one thing I loved the coaching hire. Dave Richman is Green and Gold through and through. He graduated from NDSU and has spent all but 2 years of his coaching career, and has the endorsement of NDSU last two coaches Saul Phillips and Tim Miles. Perhaps the thing I liked the most then was the idea that he might stay put with NDSU for a couple decades or even his entire career. Now, I would never begrudge a guy for moving on and bettering his career, and in truth if it ever so happened that Richman became the coach at a big time college basketball program, I would love to root for him there the same way I root for Miles at Nebraska BUT whereas those guys came from out of state, Richman is home grown. I totally get why North Dakota is a place someone from outside wouldn’t want to spend the rest of their life. I mean… seriously… this isn’t exactly a friendly commute to work Mother Nature…

FEMA_-_40252_-_Path_cut_through_a_snow_bank_in_Fargo,_North_Dakota

But it would certainly help the program if we could find our Jim Boeheim, Coach K, Tom Izzo, Mark Few, or hell, even our own Scott Nagy. A lifer who will be a constant for the program for years to come. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s just start on the fun part where I talk about all the ways Richman has already surprised me.

First off, I was incredibly pleased with the recruiting class he brought in to rebuild a depleted roster. Recruiting is always my biggest fear for NDSU Athletics. For one thing the state of North Dakota doesn’t produce a lot of Division 1 athletes simply because the population of the state is so low (less than a million in the entire state, making us the 4th smallest state in the Union… even behind South Dakota… those bastards…). So this obviously means you need to go outside of the State to bring in talent and compete at the Division 1 level. Then comes the problem of weather again. You have to be able to convince kids to commit to live in Fargo for 4 years which is definitely easier said than done. Its one thing to get them to come in, and another to keep them from transferring or leaving the program somewhere through the process. We won’t know anything about the latter until later in Richman’s career but as far as the former, so far he’s impressed me mightily.

angry dakota

Now a lot of these guys are shared recruits with Saul Phillips, but Richman is the guy who got them to stick with NDSU even after Phillips left, and he added to the class himself as well. So far he appears to have stuck to Phillips’ strategy of hitting Wisconsin hard for the bulk of his team (something Saul did because of his many connections to the state as well as the University of Wisconsin). The two Germantown guys (Jake Showalter and Evan Wesenberg) come from an elite high school program, and even though we failed to lock in their star teammate Lamonte Bearden, I think by the time they’re Juniors both those guys are going to be solid players for us. The only problem with that is because we lost so much of our size off of last years teams, and because we’re redshirting every other big guy we locked up this year (more on that later) we really need Wesenberg to start contributing now. In fact it would be ideal if he could start at Power Forward so we could play Jacobson at the 3, but that simply isn’t going to happen. And Showalter looks like a project player at the moment. Richman hasn’t given him many minutes yet so I supposed I don’t really know how good he is, but the very fact that Richman doesn’t think he can get on the floor yet says enough for me. That doesn’t mean they’re not valuable players however. Like I said both these guys come from a winning program in Germantown High School which went a combined 82-2 and won three consecutive Wisconsin Division 1 state championships from 2012-14. Both guys are winners and were key cogs to those winning teams, even if Bearden was the star.

Photo Credit Joe Koshollek

Photo Credit Joe Koshollek

The last Wisconsin kid, Paul Miller, is making a serious case for being an impact player right now. He’s played his way into NDSU’s 6th man role at least at this early part of the season. Right now his offense is heavy on the 3 ball which I don’t necessarily like because thats prone to hot and cold streaks, but the guy is averaging 10 points per game and shooting 48% from the field so he’s definitely some great offense off the bench. This is critical for this NDSU team which lost so many guys from its 8 man rotation, and thats a great eye from Richman to identify that this young guy can come in and play right away (even more so when you consider that 2 of those 3 games were against Texas and Iowa).

So off the bat Richman has done a good job of keeping the Wisconsin pipeline open to NDSU. This is critical cuz these guys are used to the ND kind of winters and won’t be scared off by it. He also brought in a walk-on from Minnesota in Brian Ishola who also shouldn’t have any transfer fears for the program. I don’t know much about him as a player since he recently had knee surgery and hasn’t gotten on the court, but at 6’5″ 210lbs and judging by some grainy high school mixtapes he should be able to be a long, physical defender for NDSU, and hopefully Richman can develop his offense enough to get him on the floor.

However, Richman has also spread out the borders of NDSU recruiting a little bit. He brought in two skilled big men (much needed for NDSU) to redshirt this year. The first is Spencer Eliason, a 6’9″ PF from Nebraska whose brother currently plays at the University of Minnesota. The second his Trey Miller, a 6’7″ forward from Washington state. Both guys are redshirting which I like for several reasons. Whereas a program like Kentucky can only bring in these elite freshmen for 1 year before they turn pro, a school like NDSU is in for the long haul.

FYI if you're an NDSU recruit it helps if you're at least... like... 7% sasquatch... on either your maternal or paternal side... doesn't really matter, we just need you to have a hair for warmth

FYI if you’re an NDSU recruit it helps if you’re at least… like… 7% Sasquatch… on either your maternal or paternal side… doesn’t really matter, we just need you to have a hair for warmth

First and foremost, these guys are not from ND or anywhere near Fargo. There is going to be a period of adjustment for them as they get used to living somewhere else for the first time in their lives. This is a problem lots of normal college kids have to adjust to, and if you add the pressure of playing Division 1 basketball to the mix, you’re bound to have some issues. Redshirting them allows them to still practice, grow, and improve with their teammates, while removing some of the pressure and allowing them to adjust to their new college lives. Trey also just had knee surgery back in Washington, so not worrying about rushing him back from injury is yet another huge plus. All things considered, slowing things down seems like it will be incredibly helpful to both players, which is first and foremost in my mind, and the minds of the coaches and staff at NDSU.

In addition to helping the players, however, redshirting them also helps the program. While at first it seems detrimental to have 2 big men sit out the season on a team starved for size, that’s not quite the whole story. This would likely be a wasted year for these two. Certainly for Trey with that surgery, and probably for Spencer as well. It is much better for the team to have them both develop their skills without wasting a year of eligibility, and come back that much better for next season. Moreover, redshirting these two will help fix a balance problem which has been a problem for NDSU’s basketball program at multiple points during its D1 history. When you have a large freshmen class, eventually you’re going to have a large senior class (as was the case for NDSU with the class of 2009 and the class of 2014). Now, while in NDSU’s case these periods of large senior classes have resulted in the schools only 2 NCAA Tournament berths, it also leaves the program feeling rather shattered and broken once so many key players leave all at once.

NDSU recruting

To look only at this years team, we have only 3 upper classmen on the entire roster; Sr. Lawrence Alexander and Jrs. Kory Brown and Chris Kading. Moreover, because NDSU is regretfully not Kentucky, having a youthful team like this means you will make a lot of mistakes, which this NDSU team has done thus far this season. Its just a lot to ask for a program like NDSU to be competitive with so much youth.

Instead, it is much better to evenly disperse scholarships across the various classes. In Division 1 college basketball every team is allowed to have 13 scholarship players. This means the ideal situation would be to have 3 players in 3 classes, and 4 in one. This would give a team an even mix of upper and under classmen, and ensure that a team isn’t completely devastated by graduations.

This is something Richman is already addressing. Rather than leaving this class of 2018 as 7 players (including redshirt freshman A.J. Jacobson) Richman has redshirted Miller and Eliason, as we mentioned, shrinking the class size to 5, but with only 4 true freshmen, and only 3 of those true freshmen on scholarship. So anyway, our current breakdown of scholarship players/classes looks like this.

Seniors – 1

Juniors – 2

Sophomores – 2

Freshmen – 6

11 total scholarships. 2 short of the total allowed. Another no no most of the time, but it will allow Richman to fix this class size problem NDSU has. The way Richman has structured his team next  year the scholarship breakdown will look like this.

Seniors – 2

Juniors – 2

Sophomores – 4

Freshmen – 4

Not the ideal but getting closer. This is a rather boring point and one that I shouldn’t spend any more time on, but its one that I place a lot of importance on personally, because I want NDSU to be consistently competitive without any major rebuilding years. I think Coach Richman is approaching this issue with the same mentality, so hopefully in the future we’ll never have a team with only 3 upper classmen again.

(Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY Sports)

(Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY Sports)

As far as coaching, then, its too early to really say anything but I like how Coach Richman runs his program. He’s built a solid staff around himself and he runs things by the book. He establishes his 8 man rotation and generally sticks to it which is often critical in basketball, to ensure that players get into rhythm and to make sure your players maintain consistency of play as they are familiar with the various lineups they will play with. I’ve also heard that he’s more of a hard nosed guy rather than a players coach like Saul Phillips reportedly was. This worried me at first because I thought it would hurt recruiting, but after looking at how he finished the 2014 class, and the great start he has had to the 2015 class (two commits during the early commitment period last week) I’m a lot less worried about that and more worried about how the team performs on the court.

So anyway, there are going to be a ton of growing pains this year. That Kennesaw State game felt like a nightmare as NDSU blew a 23 point lead (HOW?!?!?!) only to then win by 13 (again… HOW?!?!!). Carlin Dupree is definitely the point guard of the future  for us and the guy is insanely talented, but when opposing teams really go at him (like Iowa did) he is prone to melting down. Thats just youth and its something he’ll get over, but it won’t help us this year.

carlin-dupree-behind-the-back-a

 

A.J. Jacobson has had a horrible start to the season, which I personally believe comes from the fact that we’re playing him at Power Forward. The guy is a natural wing who should ideally be playing the 3 for us, but right now that just can’t happen. You need to have your best 5 players on the floor as much as possible and Jacobson is one of our five best guys. The only problem is that 3 of our other best guys are guards (Dupree at the 1, LA at 2 and Kory at 3) which slides him over to the power forward slot playing next to Kading (at center). This means this problem will automatically fix itself next year when LA graduates and one of the younger guys slides into the PF role, but for now we have to play Jacobson there (since the only other 4 available is Wesenberg and he’s just not ready yet for starters minutes). SO ANYWAY Jacobson is struggling but thats not surprising when he’s wayyyyy undersized for the position he’s playing and the guys defending him are way bigger and more physical than he would normally have to go against. He seems to be figuring things out, albeit slowly, and made some strides against Kennesaw State, leading the team in boards with 8, so perhaps when he’s not playing the veritable skyscrapers Texas trots out there, it won’t look like such a mismatch.

AJ Jacobson Texas Game

Other rotation guys like Dexter Werner still have a lot to learn, but have given us stretches of solid play (Werner had a great block against Iowa around the 10 minute mark of the 2nd half, but then came back on the very next play and fouled the guy so he’s still very up and down). Long story short, theres going to be a ton of growing pains on this team and even though they’re talented, I don’t see a tournament run in our future. But hey, we could easily get hot in the Summit League Tourney and make a run so you never know. Either way, I feel like Richman has removed every single doubt I had coming into this rebuild process. The team is going to bounce back strong next season, which is a full year ahead of when I first anticipated they’d be back to NCAA Tourney potential form. I feel like the rebuild is even already done, its just a matter of coaching these guys up and developing them some more, which could be done as early as March of this year! All things considered I’m already completely sold on Coach Richman and the New-look Bison. Which is pretty impressive when you think the team is only 1-2 right now. Unfortunately not everyone gets to rebuild the John Calipari way, where you lose 6 starters, and sign up 8 more fresh out of the gates. Schools like NDSU have to take the slower route, and every now and then have an ’empty-cupboards’ kind of year. But hopefully with Richman at the helm, NDSU won’t have to worry so much about these things anymore, and can develop into a consistent Mid Major staple in March. And hopefully he’ll be doing it for a long long time.

A Short Aside to a Long-winded Topic

(Photo Credit - Tony Guitierrez, AP)

(Photo Credit – Tony Guitierrez, AP)

So the SEC Meetings went down in Destin, Florida last week. This is one of those non-stories that has become a story in recent times because of how obsessed Americans are with football. However, in spite of that pithy remark, I do believe that nowadays these meetings of the major conferences have become incredibly important. With the slow but steady push over the last 4 years of the power conferences to become super conferences, these meetings have become exceedingly crucial to the fate and future of college sports. The reason of course being the ever present rumors that the power conferences are slowly building themselves up to the point where they can become independent entities from the NCAA or form some sort of federation where they compete with one another and leave the old NCAA schools behind. SO with that in mind these meetings are always something to pay attention to.

sec

Moreover, this years meetings did not disappoint in this regard as rumors are flying that the SEC will consider a mid range plan to demote themselves to Division 4 competition which would essentially give them jurisdiction over their own scholarship situation and remove the cornucopia of fetters which the NCAA lashes on them. Furthermore, with the conference already sitting at 14 teams (and all big schools capable of competing in the conference) and the possibility always open for further expansion in the future, the competition within conference would still be enough to keep the SEC as the premier football conference in the country. It also makes perfect sense that these conversations are happening at this particular moment in time because the SEC Network is launching this season.

SEC Network logo

Plausibly, the SEC will want to jump through the NCAA hoops for maybe a couple more as they cement the financial stability of the Network. However, with an ESPN – SEC alliance and American football mania at an all time high and growing, I see absolutely no scenario wherein the SEC Network fails. This thing is going to be a colossal financial success. Once this truth becomes evident, the SEC would be completely free to break with the NCAA and move to Division 4 as rumored. There are enough teams in conference to maintain a high level of competition. Recruits would still come to the conference (and even be more likely to do so because the SEC could offer more scholarships and scholarship money in D4 than the NCAA allows them to offer in D1. Moreover, its important to note that the best recruits in the country largely choose their colleges based on a desire to get to the NFL. And the NFL, for their part, could not care less where an athlete played college ball as long as they think he can play. There would be absolutely no stigma in this regard when it came to NFL scouting. This move which seems farcical at first, would allow the SEC to keep all their prestige intact while leaving them open to move more freely than they are currently. In short then… this could totally happen. Plus it would be a near mortal blow to the NCAA which would make countless sports fans happy.

The NFL couldn't care less which conference or division a kid plays in when it comes to draft day as Eric Fisher (#1 overall last year)  and Khalil Mach (#4 overall this year) both from the Mid-American Conference, taught us. (Photo Credit - Al Bello, Getty Images)

The NFL couldn’t care less which conference or division a kid plays in when it comes to draft day as Eric Fisher (#1 overall last year) and Khalil Mach (#4 overall this year) both from the Mid-American Conference, taught us. (Photo Credit – Al Bello, Getty Images)

(Photo Credit - Elsa, Getty Images)

(Photo Credit – Elsa, Getty Images)

However, not everyone would be happy. These kind of power moves are fantastic for the large schools, but they would crush mid major sports. Obviously this is a larger issue in basketball than football, but the fact remains the same, that the smaller schools (such as NDSU) would be badly hurt in the long run if they could no longer get those big pay days from playing an SEC or a Big 10 or PAC 12 school at the beginning of the year. Those paydays often keep a lot of athletic departments afloat, and without them I can’t even imagine the damage that would be done.

(Photo Credit - Reese Strickland, USA Today Sports)

(Photo Credit – Reese Strickland, USA Today Sports)

However, this kind of damage may happen anyway even if the SEC doesn’t break with the NCAA, and it may happen sooner than we think. Another topic on the agenda for the SEC was a desire from the power football schools in the conference (Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia, etc) to force SEC school to cut FCS opponents (and potential upsets) from their schedules entirely and focus on shifting their schedules to play only power conference schools. Now, as a Kentucky fan this somewhat of a scary prospect as those gimme wins against FCS schools are often much needed wins which can push the team to bowl eligibility. However, this problem becomes neutralized when you remember that schools like Kansas, Wake Forest, and Indiana are in power conferences. Meaning that even though all three of them have historically atrocious football programs, we would be allowed to play (and beat) all of them, perhaps by even wider margins than we could beat an FCS team (I would much rather play Indiana every year than play NDSU. NDSU could have beaten Indiana by 20 this past season).

(Photo Credit - David Stephenson, Lexington Herald Leader)

(Photo Credit – David Stephenson, Lexington Herald Leader)

Now, this isn’t collusion by the SEC teams to hurt the little guys and undercut the NCAA. It actually has a lot more to do with the 4 team playoff system. SEC powers wont to ensure the entire conference has no chinks in the armor so all of Alabama, Florida, and LSU’s in conference wins continue to count for more than a PAC 12 win does. Beating up on FCS teams hurts SEC Strength of Schedule arguments, because opposing teams can say the mid and lower teams of the SEC on beat terrible teams and that its just a top heavy conference. This new system would change that and make the SEC Schedules much more unassailable.

(Photo Credit - Gerald Herbert, AP)

(Photo Credit – Gerald Herbert, AP)

For the smaller schools like NDSU, however, the fact remains that this would still be a devastating outcome. Think back to last season for a second. What was the most exciting game of the regular season? The win at Kansas State, right? Hell, I think that was the most exciting game of the season PERIOD, even including the playoffs and the national championship game.

Obviously I’m glad we won the title and completed the three-peat, but that game wasn’t in question the entire time. We dismantled Towson. K State was a battle. We had a great core of fans travel down to the game. Hell, it even felt regional and local in a way the National Title game never does. I had a lot more fun watching our little David slay the Goliath in our own back yard (Kansas, also in the upper Midwest like us) than watch us as Goliath destroy a team from the East Coast in Texas. That just feels like an artificial construct, and there was no excitement anyway because everyone knew we were going to blow them out.

My point in bringing all this up is just to reiterate the fact that for quite a while now that early season BCS opponent game has been the most exciting part of NDSU’s season. We have so far and away outgrown our surroundings in FCS that I’m not even entertained by watching the Bison crack the skulls of wildly inferior FCS foes. Now, however, the Power Schools are all going to begin shifting away from FCS opponents. Once the SEC completes this transition to all Power Conference opponents the other Power Conferences will follow suit to make sure the SEC doesn’t retain another competitive advantage. That means no more Iowa State game for NDSU. No more Kansas State. No more Minnesota (even though they’re afraid to play NDSU anymore because they can’t beat the Bison). Frankly put, no more fun for me in the regular season.

(Photo Credit - Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

(Photo Credit – Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

I understand that NDSU is about to enter a maaaaaaajor rebuild with Coach Bohl leaving for Wyoming, but imagine how much harder the rebuild will or would be without the influx of cash from those big opponent games, and the influx of fan excitement and energy that comes with playing those games (win OR lose). NDSU in its current for cannot remain a major power playing only FCS opponents. It is going to stymie growth and likely prevent us from ever reaching the enormous potential that I know this athletic department has.

But there’s nothing we can do about what the SEC or the Big 10 or the PAC 12 and Big 12 want to do. Their schedules are their business (literally… there’s tons of money at stake here) and I have no qualms with them doing whats right by themselves. However, that doesn’t mean that I want NDSU to roll over and throw in the towel. This problem can be quickly remedied (and yes… I can hear your groaning through the computer screen as I bring up my pet project yet again BUT IT IS VALID AND IMPORTANT AND I CAN SHOUT REAL LOUD AND HAVE A BLOG SO LISTEN UP!!!!) if NDSU would make the jump up to D1-A. The only way to ensure this quality of opponent (and frankly quality of game and product) are maintained is to move into a conference where this level of competition is the norm, rather than a once a year treat like it is now for Bison fans.

The winds of college sports are shifting. Nobody likes the NCAA. They’re corrupt and incompetent and the major schools are fed up with it. The preliminary moves are already in place for the Power Schools to jump ship and send the NCAA sinking to the bottom of the ocean. The only problem is that there are no life rafts left over for the Mid-Majors. They’re gonna be left hanging out like the orchestra on the freaking titanic. Its going to be hard enough for the D1-A schools in minor conferences like the MAAC and the AAC to survive. Its going to be nearly impossible for the FCS schools to do so. NDSU has begun to build some amazing sports momentum. They’ve created a beautiful sports community in the last 7 or 8 years and College Gameday felt like a beautiful crowning achievement this year. But if we want this fun to continue in any capacity we need to move fast before it all goes away… otherwise… well… play me off boys…

Little Brother and the Frozen Four

(Photo credit, Elsa - Getty Images)

(Photo credit, Elsa – Getty Images)

So, over the weekend Union College of New York won their first men’s hockey championship and I presume their first championship in any sport since their colonial founding in 1795. Moreover, the Dutchmen did so by manhandling #1 overall seed and America’s hockey homeland Minnesota [much to my chagrin]. Minnesota looked sluggish and almost uninvested (save for a few moments of adrenaline fueled desperation where they showcased their superior skating and physicality) as Union punched them in the mouth time and time again. However, as is always the case for me personally at the Frozen Four, the real storyline was NDSU’s little brother, the UND [redacted]’s, and the national holiday that is their annual exit from the tournament.

(Photo credit Getty Images)

(Photo credit Getty Images)

This isn’t necessarily interesting. Rivals should hate each other. NDSU fans SHOULD be happy to see UND lose. However, the NDSU / UND relationship is a bit more unique than, say, the Kentucky – Louisville or UNC – Duke rivalries. NDSU is undeniably the Alpha to UND’s Beta in this relationship. Football, Basketball, Volleyball, Wrestling, Curling, Cup Stacking… you name it and NDSU has been and is better at it than UND. However, until the dawn of this Bison Sports renaissance that we’ve been living in since the Bison made the leap from D2 to D1, UND had the larger national profile in the region’s second biggest (behind football who is America’s sporting leviathan) sport. UND dominates on a national level in hockey. They have won 7 national titles since the 50s and are by all means a blue-blood of college hockey. They contend for titles every year and the NHL is littered with their former stars. This, in turn, inflates UND fans’ egos to Wonkan-blueberry esque levels.

"...You can't silence me! 7 national titles! Everyone knows hockey is the national sport! Our arena puts yours to shame!..."

“…You can’t silence me! 7 national titles! Everyone knows hockey is the national sport! Our arena puts yours to shame!…”

".. hey WAIT!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! YOU CAN'T SILENCE ME!!! PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEeeee~~~"

“.. hey WAIT!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! YOU CAN’T SILENCE ME!!! PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEeeee~~~”

Moreover, while I think UND fans can be incredibly insufferable, hating them isn’t as easy as it should be. Because North Dakota is such a small state and is generally off the national radar (unless the Cohen Brothers are churning out a new screenplay or someone is hoping to make a nobody lives here joke) I really want to band together and carry the State banner whenever  possible. UND has made this impossible though. And I’m not just talking about the fans, but the administartion. When NDSU went D1 they naturally needed a partner to make the move up with them. No conference would agree to travel to Fargo, North Dakota as a one of trip. NDSU needed a nearby partner to make in conference foes’ road trips more economically viable. Naturally, NDSU used logic and set aside animosity to ask UND to move up with them. UND refused, simply because they couldn’t stomach the idea of helping big brother NDSU do anything. They hoped to submarine NDSU’s efforts to help themselves, actively hurting their own school in process (we know it was a mistake to not go up with NDSU because UND DID go up to D1 a few years later on their own…) In any event NDSU ultimately paired with SDSU and USD, meaning UND’s attempt to cut off their nose to spite their face blew up in their now maimed face anyway. Well done guys…

But in any event the hatred goes really deep, and really prevents the state from banding together. Moreover, UND has always loved to cling to their hockey success, not just out of school pride, but as a way to anger NDSU fans. (Important to note here that NDSU hasn’t even had a hockey team for decades, presumably because they can’t compete with UND on this front… which ought to make UND fan’s giddy. However, that doesn’t stop NDSU from dominating them in every other sport of any consequence… I’m not bitter or anything though… wait a minute I need to cheer myself up quick)

Ohhhh yes... nothing makes me happier than sad UND hockey players (Photo credit Eric Hartline - USA Today Sports)

Ohhhh yes… nothing makes me happier than sad UND hockey players (Photo credit Eric Hartline – USA Today Sports)

Alrighty. So to wrap it up, UND has a much higher profile at the pinnacle of a major sport and has an immense presence in that sport. However, as much as I love it, hockey really isn’t a national sport in the United States.  Its huge in New England and the Upper Midwest, as well as many other pockets throughout the country, and despite Gary Bettman and the NHL’s best efforts its growing in popularity. But in large parts of the country its a running joke (Kentucky, for instance, where watching hockey is grounds for ridicule). And even though North Dakota is one of the states where hockey is loved, football is still bigger and NDSU’s recent three-peat puts UND’s embarrassment of a football team to shame. And heres where we come to the real heart of the matter. NDSU, the true big brother in this relationship, has finally established itself as such in my opinion. In the same year where NDSU capped off its Football 3-peat, hosted ESPN’s College gameday, and pulled off its first NCAA men’s basketball tournament run, UND got punched in the gut by their biggest (hockey) rival, losing on a miracle goal with 0.6 seconds on the clock (WHILE UND WAS ON THE POWERPLAY) which I will revel in for at least a decade… probably longer

NDSU’s renaissance continued with a flourish while UND’s counterpunch fell hilariously flat. Its good to have you back little brother. I hope you’re comfy where you are, because with a little luck you’ll stay there forever. But no matter what, we’ll always have this beautiful moment.

(credit gifsection.com)

(credit gifsection.com)

 

 

The Price of Success

(Kirby Lee - USA Today)

(Kirby Lee – USA Today)

First Coach Bohl, now Coach Phillips. Over the weekend Saul Phillips accepted an offer to become the next Head Coach of the Ohio Bobcats. This one definitely took my by surprise. Not Phillips leaving. He had to make this move. As much as I hate to admit it NDSU is not just a stepping stone job… it is the stepping stone TO the stepping stone job. Coach Phillips was making $175,000 a year as the Men’s Basketball Coach at NDSU. Now I’m not saying we should pity him for making six figures, but he’ll make $550,000/year to coach at Ohio, a program which is quite obviously a stepping stone itself as they have provided the coaches for Illinois and Boston College.

It sucks to lose our coach. Especially the same year we lost our legendary football coach. This is definitely the end of a golden year for NDSU sports, which really stinks. Both teams are going to bounce back and be right back to their winning ways sooner rather than later, but there’s going to be a drop off. This is especially painful for me, because as you know and as I write about ad naseum, I’m the biggest proponent of NDSU jumping up to a larger conference. Now with our 2 major sports in flux and as we’re about to take a definite stepback it pretty much ends any chance of us jumping conferences for the time being. I’m taking this about as well as you’d expect.

I promise I’ll stop beating this dead horse (that’s a lie… just letting you know up front) BUT we could at least stem some of this problem if we were in a larger conference. A bigger conference means bigger and more frequent payouts for sports teams. Money is a huge reason why we can’t keep our coaches around so if we could pay them more and (whats probably a bigger problem) their assistants we would stand a lot better chance of keeping them at least from schools like Ohio. We would still lose coaches to the Nebraska’s of the world, but we could probably fight off Wyoming, Colorado State, and Ohio. Moreover being in a bigger conference like the MAC (where Ohio plays by the way) would also mean that the calibur of job needed to pull one of our coaches away would need to be higher as well.

Gene Taylor, to his credit, knew that by making the jump up from D2 we would be setting ourselves up for coaching turnover, which is why he tried to move us all the way up to D1-A rather than AA and put us in the WAC (a bigger, more stable [at the time] conference).  But before you say that proves we never should have gone and that we shouldn’t make another mini up up, we never would have had the increased success and excitement we’ve had without that move. We will probably be fine sitting still in the Summit and Missouri Valley (although its risky in the volatile world of realignment we currently live in) but I can’t help believing it would help to be in a bigger conference.

Richman_summit_league_tournament_Bison

(Bison Illustrated)

As far as the future as things currently stand, I feel alright about it. Same as with the football program. If Gene really does decide to turn the keys over to Dave Richman we will have some major growing pains. Recruiting will take a huge step back. But the coaching will be fine. Moreover, he’s young with DEEP North Dakota roots so we stand a chance of keeping this guy even through the first couple poaching attempts. This guy is an NDSU alum and owes his entire coaching career to NDSU. Plus he’s a real North Dakotan born ‘n’ raised, not like Teddy Roosevelt who we irrationally try to claim at any given opportunity.

The biggest and only real fear I have with coach Richman is that we lose that Wisconsin (particularly Milwaukee) recruiting territory. He’ll give us an ironclad Dakota recruiting effort and I think things will improve drastically in Minnesota (especially with Richard Pitino at UofM) but the Wisconsin recruiting was largely Saul’s efforts. Our real future will lie in Minnesota now, as that Pitino thing can’t be undersold. This guy is an awful coach, an awful recruiter, and an awful person. Most importantly for NDSU though is that in his first year on the job he’s tried mainly to keep his Florida pipeline (created when he was a coach at Florida International) open and redirect it to MN. He doesn’t seem to have faith in MN basketball players which is both hilarious and fortuitous for NDSU. Firing Tubby Smith was moronic by Minnesota and it bummed me out because I like to follow them as a secondary team and I love Tubby (and I loathe all Pitinos) but it was especially stupid because Tubby did a great job of sealing the boarders and keeping Minnesota players in Minnesota. (They also fired him at exactly the wrong time with one of the best recruits in the country being a Minnesota native this upcoming season. Firing Tubby ended any chance they had at landing Tyus Jones). But I digress. Just know that there is a ton of talent to be had in Minnesota and Pitino being at Minnesota helps us immensely.

I’m happy for Saul. I can’t wait for him to pull a Tim Miles and parlay his upper mid major job (Ohio for Saul, Colorado State for Tim) into a big job in a big conference (Nebraska for Tim, and who knows for Saul. Heck if he succeeds enough at Ohio and is patient, maybe he can replace Bo Ryan at Wisconsin once he retires in 6 seasons or so. He got his start there and is obviously close to the man [he had Bo’s son on his staff at NDSU]). BUT ANYWAY things are GREAT for Saul which I love. Things are fine with NDSU. Everyone will be happy and everyone will survive. Even as pessimistic as I am, this is a great time to be a Bison fan, and we’re just starting to build an amazing sports culture for the program. I can’t wait to watch it continue to grow. The support is there so I’m confident both our new coaches will be able to succeed as long as fans keep the faith and support them.

Revisiting Realignment

A few months ago I spent entirely too much time begging NDSU to revisit the realignment question after Gene Taylor’s initial plans in the early 2000s to double jump from D2 into a D1 BCS school and push NDSU into the WAC were dashed by closed minded administrative officials. Just as an aside here I’ve probably been too hard on AD Taylor in this issue, but I’m really curious as to why we haven’t been able to push this question back to the surface ever since that initial failing. It becomes even more frustrating that we COMPLETELY missed a window to take advantage of the utter chaos of the 2011/12 realignment frenzy. Scores of teams switched conferences and NDSU brand was as ascendant as it has EVER been. And I doubt any conference is going to reach out to NDSU but I can’t believe they wouldn’t kick the tires on the issue if NDSU came to them first. As I mentioned in those other articles, Bison Athletics are now truly at their all time high. Three consecutive FCS Football championships, Summit conference regular season and tournament champions and the school’s first win in the NCAA tournament.  Moreover, the school is on a precipice with a coaching change and loss of key seniors in football and even though it looks like we dodged the Marquette bullet with Saul Phillips, we’re still replacing 6 seniors on the basketball team as well. This obviously makes NDSU less attractive to new conferences in terms of what can immediately happen, but NDSU not only has a burgeoning support network in Fargo and the state of North Dakota, but they now have a major national brand! Now, I’m obviously not trying to say they’re Alabama or Duke, but people are really aware of NDSU and national fans would be more than happy to jump on the bandwagon of any North Dakota time on the national stage if only for the comedy of rooter for a team from Nōrth Dakōta. We hosted College Game Day this year! This is definitely an opportunity for us to operate from a position of strength!

In any event, our stock is as high as its ever been and its going to dip once next year starts. So right now seems to me like the time Gene Taylor should sell hard on his program, hop into a new conference, then take the next couple years to rebuild to even bigger and better heights since we’ll have elevated the program even further. All we need is an opportunity. And last week it looks like a chance (albeit probably a longshot) may have fallen down to us. On Wednesday the 26th it was announced that the MAC has kicked UMass out as a football only member, effective 2015. UMass rejected an offer to become a full member because their basketball team currently plays in a much better basketball conference, the Atlantic 10, and to be honest this is probably the right move for UMass considering the stature of their basketball program and relative irrelevance of their football program. From NDSU’s perspective I think the MAC is the most realistic conference for NDSU to join and most beneficial for both parties.

648_-mid-american_conference-alternate-

Geographically NDSU would only  need to travel to many of the same regions that they currently travel in the Summit, and culturally both conferences are located in the upper Midwest. Moreover, the MAC is a relatively stable conference and would be a great longterm home for NDSU. NDSU would likely not be able to join until 2015 when UMass officially left, but that would simply give the school a chance to stabilize, even begin recruiting and fundraising under the higher profile banner. I don’t think the Bison could come in and win the conference in any of the major sports immediately, but they would easily be middle of the pack with a chance to upset some teams and rise to the top in relatively short order. The one hitch, however, is that NDSU likely cannot and in my opinion should not make this move alone.

South Dakota State

USD

If we arbitrarily set Bowling Green University in Ohio as the geographic center of this conference, it takes about 15 hours by car to reach this center-point. From Boston its actually only 12 hours. So even though UMass never really fit with the Midwestern feel of the conference, they were actually a tighter geographic fit. Moreover, they had Buffalo in upstate New York has a backyard neighbor to allow other teams to make one road trip into 2 and ease the travel burden the same way NDSU has done with the 2 South Dakota Schools ever since going D-1. Moreover, the South Dakota schools have been loyal and integral partners in all the success NDSU has been able to achieve. In my opinion SDSU has honestly matched almost everything NDSU has done. Obviously we have the titles and the NCAA tourney win, but SDSU has made themselves into a D1-AA football stalwart and until this year noone could deny that their basketball program had the superior pedigree (they had their 2 berths before us, and clearly have had the best player during this stretch, Nate Wolters, of either school). USD has admittedly struggled, but to be honest that makes me want to stay loyal to them even more.

 

 

I can’t really imagine abandoning these two schools, especially the struggling one, when they have been every bit as important in NDSU’s rise as our own Athletic Department, players, or fans have been. No conference would want NDSU without a traveling partner. North Dakota is just too distant and too complicated to travel to in isolation. That sounds like a ridiculous statement with the way modern travel works, but most athletic departments don’t fly their teams everywhere, and simply don’t want to add the extra burden of heading to the American hinterland. Leaving these loyal partners behind not only makes us jerks, it would destabilize our program and make us a less attractive partner for potential suitors. The make will not, and probably should not accept NDSU alone as an expansion partner.

And there in lies the biggest obstacle to this potentially (green and) golden opportunity. The MAC currently sits at 13 members including UMass. The other 12 members are already full members. UMass is only even in this conference for the name recognition they bring in from their basketball pedigree which is why the conference is cutting ties now that the Minutemen have refused to bring that basketball program under their umbrella. It is incredibly sensible, and plausible, to believe that the MAC will simply stand pat at 12 members once UMass leaves. They can simply chalk it up to a failed PR ploy and make their conference a more logical 12 member institution with 6 members in each division.

Personally I preferred the old 10-12 team conference models of the pre-expansion and realignment days, and the new 14-16 member monsters which are rearing their heads seem bloated and detrimental to me (you will simply force 4-6 schools to be perpetual bottom feeders to pad the wins of your middle and top tier). So to me it would make sense for the MAC to just hold pat at 12 rather than expand to another awkward 13 (with NDSU) a bloated 14 (NDSU and SDSU) or a bloated AND awkward 15 (if USD got to join the mix). The 15 option is absurd and they would never do that. The 14 would actually set the MAC up with some nice cushion in case a bigger conference came sniffing for any of their members in another round of expansion in the future, but they would probably need to lose another member before we could get all 3 Dakota schools in. I think there is a future here somewhere between these 3 schools and this conference. But maybe I’m just wishfully thinking. I just hope that Gene Taylor, who is honestly more proactive then I probably give him credit for, is already out there making inqueries and trying to sell his program now, when its at its height, so that even if a perfect opportunity isn’t available NOW, then NDSU can be on the minds of these Conference Commissioners’ minds when an even better opportunity pops up. And Commissioner Steinbrecher, if you’re listening, I just wanted to let you know that you have fabulous hair.