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Dave Kolpack / Associated Press, Published November 22 2010

College football: Lawmakers may revisit Bison-Sioux rivalry

Some North Dakota lawmakers want to know why an annual game that was once touted as the oldest rivalry in NCAA Division II football continues to flounder at the Division I level.

Supporters had hoped the matchup that began in 1894 and ended in 2003 would resume naturally if the University of North Dakota joined North Dakota State in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. But UND decided earlier this month to join the Big Sky Conference after the Missouri Valley failed to extend an invitation.

Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, sponsored a bill in the 2009 session calling for the teams to play football every year. It was overwhelmingly rejected by lawmakers after NDSU officials said the game would resume sooner rather than later. Now Mock is wondering why nothing has been scheduled and says he might bring it up again.

“If I were to go about this with other legislators, I think it would probably be in the form of a resolution, if for nothing else to get both players into the room to answer the question,” Mock said. “‘Two years ago you said you were working on it. Why is that not happening?’”

Rep. Mike Schatz, R-New England, said he would support further discussion about the game.

“I think the problem the first time was people thought we were micromanaging the universities with trying to pass a bill,” Schatz said. “I think a resolution would be a great idea.”

The schools haven’t played football since the 2003 season, after NDSU started its shift to Division I and UND decided it was staying in Division II. UND later changed its mind and is currently in the third year of its Division I transition. The school will begin league play in the Big Sky for the 2012-13 season.

The school’s athletic directors, UND’s Brian Faison and NDSU’s Gene Taylor, agree that UND’s entrance into the Big Sky makes scheduling more complicated. But they disagree about how often they could make it work.

“I think we should be playing every year,” Faison said.

“It’s not going to be every year,” Taylor said.

Taylor said it’s difficult to find open dates because of mandatory conference games and the prospect of big-money games against big-time teams. The Bison received a guarantee of $375,000 to play at Kansas this year.

The weekly grind of conference play also makes the idea of another “high-impact, high-pressure” game like NDSU-UND less attractive, Taylor said.

“They’re going to find the same thing when they play in the Big Sky,” he said of UND. “I think their coach is going to go, ‘Easy now.’”

Ross Almlie, a running back with UND in the mid-1990s who now lives in Fargo, where NDSU is located, said he believes players want the rivalry to resume on a yearly basis. But he’s hoping it won’t take a new law.

“I think the people at our schools are mature enough to make it work,” Almlie said. “You hate to see the Legislature baby-sit the activities of those colleges.”

Faison was an assistant athletic director at Louisville when legislators in Kentucky talked about a proposal to make the Cardinals and Kentucky Wildcats play each other every year in basketball. The two teams eventually agreed to compete and the bill was never introduced.

“I would hope that we can get this done ourselves,” Faison said.

Bruce Grubb, president of the NDSU Team Makers booster club, said Bison fans have enjoyed the games against bigger schools like Minnesota and Kansas and “defer to Gene Taylor” when it comes to scheduling. He also was hoping that NDSU and UND would wind up in the same conference to solve the scheduling issue.

“Hey, don’t kid yourself. It’s still out there all the time,” Grubb said of the rivalry. “I don’t care where your allegiance falls. Not being in the same conference just feels wrong.”

Taylor said the schools might be looking as far out as 2014 or 2015 to find a suitable date.

“It’s not like we’re not talking. I think that’s the biggest point the legislators need to hear,” he said.