Let’s renew old rivalry
Dave St. Peter, Minneapolis, Minn.
Wow! That might be the best word to properly describe the efforts of the North Dakota State University football team in Manhattan, Kan., last Friday night. My three sons and I had the privilege of watching most of the Bison’s historic win vs. Kansas State and came away more than captivated with the team’s unbelievable talent, tenacity, character and poise. As a University of North Dakota alum and avid follower of all UND athletics, I’ve never been easily impressed by anything NDSU-related. However, as a native of the great State of North Dakota, I couldn’t be more proud of what the NDSU football program has accomplished. Congratulations to Coach Craig Bohl, the balance of the coaching and training staff, and all of the players on your well-deserved victory. Best of luck throughout the 2013 football season.
Speaking of my boys, Friday night’s game sparked an interesting discussion within the St. Peter household. That dialogue focused on why NDSU and UND no longer play each other in football. I shared many stories from my time in Grand Forks detailing personal experiences with the NDSU-UND rivalry many of which were painful losses both at Dacotah Field and Memorial Stadium at the hands of Bison greats Jeff Bentrim, Tyrone Braxton, Chad Stark, Tony Satter and others. Each story included the buildup, the pageantry and the legends that accompany one of America’s longest-standing college football rivalries. In my professional career I’ve been lucky enough to experience so many wonderful sporting events. Moreover, I’ve seen firsthand how those events have brought communities together perhaps like nothing else can. Simply put, few of those events compare to the level of excitement and community impact that was generated each and every year by the battle for a 75-pound replica nickel the NDSU-UND football game.
Sadly, since Oct. 18, 2003, when the two schools last played, that excitement has been notably muted. Can you imagine Michigan not playing Michigan State; Florida not playing Florida State; Texas not playing Texas A&M? Unfortunately, that has become our reality as both institutions seem unable to get out of their own way in demonstrating the leadership necessary to restore one of North Dakota’s greatest traditions.
Yes, it’s time to bring the famed Nickel Trophy out of storage with a renewal of the NDSU-UND football rivalry. The reality is that the schools are now playing each other in every other sport. With those rivalries re-energized, the spirit of the competition between the schools has never been better, leading to record-breaking attendance totals on both campuses. Perhaps most importantly, despite more than 10 years of inactivity, the student interest and passion remains at a higher level for NDSU-UND matchups than any other opponent. The same can be said for alumni and friends of both schools.
How did we get here? History shows UND abandoned NDSU at a time when the Bison needed the University of North Dakota as an opponent while transitioning to Division I athletics. That was short-sighted and unfortunate, but doesn’t justify NDSU’s “turnabout is fair play” approach in refusing to play UND now. The bottom line is that all the arguments are trite and tired. UND and NDSU should be playing each other.
As we search for a path forward, the high road is clearly the restoration of the football rivalry, nationally recognized as one of the most storied and strongest in the college sports. The alumni, students, friends of the two institutions and the people of North Dakota “own” this rivalry.
The economic benefits to both schools do not require a master’s degree from either UND or NDSU to recognize the many advantages of a renewed football rivalry. In a time of unprecedented escalation of the inflationary costs of college athletics, the benefits to both schools are more than obvious.
I’ve worked in sports for nearly 25 years and learned a long time ago that it’s never a good idea for administrators and/or front office executives to be in the headlines. It’s about the players or in this case the student athletes. Unfortunately, the elimination of the annual NDSU-UND football game is a result of administrative mistakes and failed leadership on both campuses. It’s my hope that those same leaders with support from others can jointly take a step forward by doing the right thing in re-activating North Dakota’s greatest sports tradition.