By Kyle Roth
College Sports Journal
FARGO, ND. — Here in North Dakota, folks learn to take pride in the simple things.
We’re a state whose economy is founded on the fiscally-conservative agricultural field, we vote in the “go with the flow” mentality that’s pervaded our state for generations, and we’re taught to always be humble in everything we do.
We’re used to being the butt of jokes. We’re also sadly resigned to the fact that being the butt of the joke sometimes means you don’t get the due credit for your accomplishments, as North Dakota State University found out when their championship banner was mistakenly shipped to the archrival University of North Dakota’s athletic department this past week.
We’re used to getting this sort of treatment from our neighbors.
The Minnesota state legislature has captured this disrespect nicely when relegating the state of North Dakota to “let’s not turn into them” status.
It happened first when the Minnesota state capitol building, crumbling from years of neglect and a lack of renovation, was raised as the antithesis of its western counterpart.
While one state legislator literally held a piece of the building’s masonry in his hand, he lauded North Dakota’s vertical capitol building, affectionately referred to as “The Prairie Silo” for its vertical construction, as being similar to an insurance building (whatever that means).
The rest of the legislature laughed along and the general sentiment was that, indeed, North Dakota is not what we want to become.
It happened again when talk of new sports facilities in Minneapolis hit the floor, and one legislator claimed that without staying on the cutting-edge of professional and college sports facilities, Minnesota risked becoming “the third Dakota.”
Again, the tacit agreement from the rest of the congressional body affirmed that this was not a desirable outcome.
We’re used to being the butt of jokes that usually distill down to a redneck or backwards punchline, though the truth couldn’t be much farther from that association.
But the NCAA’s letter to the University of North Dakota, accompaning the North Dakota State banner, seemed to be anything but a joke.
The letter that accompanied the banner for NDSU’s Division-I football championship, won this past January when the Bison defeated top-seeded Sam Houston State 17-6, was addressed to Mr. Brian Faison, the athletic director at UND, and every part of the address reflected the latter institution save for the NDSU name mentioned in the letter.
Long story short, they knew who won the title, but didn’t – or couldn’t be bothered to – do the research to figure out where to send a title that brought championship pride back to a program that had been in the midst of a 21-year title drought since winning their last D-II national championship in 1990.
My first reaction to imagine that outrage that would echo across the sports world if, say, Alabama State received the FBS banner meant for Alabama in this past football season.
The NCAA would be mocked incessantly by the national sports media.
There would be talk of ineptitude, maybe a curt statement from President Mark Emmert, and the Crimson Tide faithful would be out for blood.
True, there was a certain amount of that that happened here as well, though, despite the event happening in North Dakota and thus being underneath the radar of the general sports world.
Talk of “holding the banner hostage” until NDSU agrees to play UND in a football game since the latter party ended the hundred-year series in 2003 was all over the internet, even from the top brass of the Minnesota Twins.
There was banter, there was some fire in the belly, and there was the good-natured chuckling at the misfortune of both parties.
But nationally, it’s seen as a non-event simply because it happened in North Dakota.
FCS fans should be a little more irate, or at the very least miffed.
The event displays in a single stroke the lack of concern that our particular brand of football, usually labeled as “minor league”, garners from the NCAA.
The one feature we fans of the smaller schools can hold proudly is our playoff bracket, and with it the fact that a champion is decided on the field rather than on the computers – even that is under duress now as the NCAA ponders a four-or-more -team playoff to determine the winner of the FBS national championship.
It leaves schools like NDSU in a tough position when there is a tide of FCS schools making or considering making the jump up to the lower-tier conferences of the FBS subdivision.
Sure, here we can win championships and get a little plug on ESPN now and again, and if our program is staying in the black financially then there’s really nothing to complain about.
Yet for all the pride Bison fans take in their program’s nine national titles, the best they can get is a farcical situation like the one that erupted last week?
Even if it’s wholly arbitrary, it would be nice if the NCAA could give just a little more respect to the winners of national championships in their Division-I sports, even if said sport isn’t the cash cow that FBS football is.
At least then programs at this level wouldn’t have to constantly play the “no respect” card and could take some pride in a little earned recognition now and again.