With the recent turmoil in the Bison football schedule and our latest successes, discussion of moving to the FBS has begun to spring up. The Bison do need to move up, but this will require extensive resources and a sustained commitment from NDSU, the Herd, and the North Dakotan people. It won’t happen overnight (or even next year), but with inspired leadership and the steadfast support of the BisonNation, NDSU could be competitive at college football’s highest level.
To be competitive in the FBS, NDSU will need to build a new stadium. The Fargodome is a great place to play football, and I along with most of the Bison faithful have great memories there, but it is not capable of hosting a successful FBS program. While the Fargodome’s capacity allows NDSU to rank near the top of the FCS in attendance 9 (9th in 2011 and 6th in 2012), it is less than half of the average attendance at an FBS football game (46,074 in 2011). Without the revenue and fan exposure generated by this level of attendance, maintaining the staff and training facilities and recruiting top players would not be feasible. NDSU’s current attendance does best some of the lower-end FBS programs, but with nearly every team we’ve beaten in the playoffs contemplating a move up, the bottom of the FBS is likely to be very crowded for the foreseeable future. With the heavy competition for conference bids, a facility upgrade could well make the difference between languishing in the bottom of the Sun Belt conference and joining the Big 10 to thwart Minnesota’s attempt to escape us.
Building a reasonable FBS stadium, although it would require a major resource commitment, would not be infeasible. At a construction cost of approximately $6,700 per seat, which is roughly what Paul Brown Stadium and Qwest Field cost, a 45,000 seat stadium could be built for 300 million dollars. Boise State hosted only 34,018 fans per game in 2011, and building a stadium to host that many fans could be accomplished for about 230 million dollars. Building this type of stadium would provide NDSU and Fargo with a state-of-the-art multipurpose facility, and give the Bison a venue that would prove they belong in the FBS. If the Bison could sell out this stadium on a regular basis, they would be drawing about as many fans as Purdue, Pitt, or Rutgers, which are not bad company. Watching the Bison play a home game to a sold out house against the likes of Minnesota or Air Force would be an incredible experience I hope we all get to enjoy someday.