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March Mania

Kolpack: Bison vs. Gophers on pay-per-view would be perfect college football Plan B

On Sept. 24, 2011, North Dakota State beat Minnesota 37-24 at TCF Stadium in Minneapolis. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service

FARGO -- It started with the NBA on March 11, the day Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert was announced to have tested positive for the coronavirus. It began a fast-moving shutdown of sports in America that since March has been on an almost-daily slide.

Yes, perhaps we have hit rock bottom and are moving in the other direction. There are signs the biggest question to hit Fargo since the 1989 Fargodome public vote will be answered in a positive manner: Will the North Dakota State and Oregon football game be played on Sept. 5?

Bison players are expected to return to campus next week to begin workouts, albeit in small groups. Bars and restaurants in Minnesota are slated to open next week. Slowly, we seem to be digging out of holes across the country.

But it comes with a warning from the medical community: The virus is still out there and it could return at a more alarming clip this fall.

These days, every Plan A needs a Plan B if not a Plan C. In the case of the college football schedules of teams from North Dakota and Minnesota, I propose the following, with apologies to Patrick Reusse: A home-and-home between the Gophers and the Bison.

Reusse is the columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune who wrote a piece promoting an annual NDSU vs. Minnesota game in Minneapolis, with the Gophers getting the gate at its TCF Bank Stadium one season and the teams sharing the pot at US Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis the following year.

Just think of the possibilities.

If the pandemic reaches the point where both teams have their schedules altered to conference games only, make it a true home-and-home. The fan aspect would be rendered very low if at all due to social distancing. So the U will not have to be concerned with the 18,750-seat Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome vs. the 50,805-seat TCF Bank Stadium.

Schools want cost savings?

Taking busses 240 miles works. It could be a pay-per-view extravaganza in the line of those professional boxing events like Tyson vs. Spinks. The 1988 fight between Mike Tyson and Michael Spinks made an estimated $70 million.

I’ll never forget that money drain. I paid X amount for 91 seconds of action. A first round knockout.

Bison vs. Gophers wouldn't be in that revenue ballpark but it would be an all-day affair. I’m sure there would be problems with each team’s TV contract but if we get to this point, anything would be on the table in the name of athletic program survival. Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle said a “moderate” hit from the pandemic could mean a $30 million loss to his department.

It would have to be all about the production and less about fans trying to mess up the opposing team’s offense on third down. Like Phil vs. Tiger, we’ll need microphones on players and coaches (yes, we know the XFL tried that but that was also the XFL).

We’ll need more Fargo vs. Minneapolis pre-game interaction, like a debate between the two veteran columnists who cover each team: Mike McFeely vs. Sid Hartman. Right now that looks like a draw but I think our guy Mike may have more in the tank.

Sid has a little more experience on his side. He was born two years after the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 and he made it through almost five decades of bad Gopher football. The U still hasn’t won an overall conference title since 1967 but it did share a Big Ten West Division title last season in a breakthrough year that had the Gophers back in the national discussion.

Both programs are hot.

The Bison have won seven of the last eight FCS national titles. They’ve won 37 straight. They’ve beaten six straight FBS teams and are 9-3 overall against the 85-scholarship programs. They are 2-1 against the Gophers, with the last victory coming in 2011.

The U has refused to schedule since with the biggest reason being it’s senseless to risk losing to an FCS team in an era when every victory counts toward the bowl season. It’s a no-win situation in recruiting, especially the Twin Cities kids. The Bison players from the metro went into those games with blood in their eyes because they felt slighted.

This is different.

This year is about survival in so many ways. Gophers vs. Bison, one game to open the season in September and the other to end the regular season.

Jeff Kolpack

Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at www.bisonmedia.areavoices.com. On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.

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