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Kevin Schnepf, Published November 30 2010

Schnepf: Will playoffs return to dome? Maybe ...

Normally this time of year, Saul Phillips would have taken center stage in what might have been a record number of press conferences North Dakota State held Monday.

But this year is different. The NDSU football team, for the first time in a decade, is still playing.

That’s why Craig Bohl batted first for Monday’s multi-sport press conference at the Fargodome. His team, one of 16 left in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, plays at Montana State on Saturday afternoon.

Kari Thompson, the Bison volleyball coach, batted second. Her team plays an NCAA Tournament game Friday night at the University of Minnesota.

Phillips, the men’s basketball coach, was third in the lineup. Carolyn DeHoff, the women’s basketball coach, batted cleanup. Overshadowed by playoff football and volleyball, their teams open Summit League play Saturday night at rival South Dakota State.

Any other week, that doubleheader would have been the buzz among Bison Team Makers. Any other week, those boosters would’ve been looking even farther ahead to Dec. 11 – when Phillips’ men’s team will play in the Fargodome: renewing its real rivalry with the University of North Dakota.

“It’s sneaking up on us,” Phillips said, urging fans to get out and buy tickets. “Let’s pack that place.”

That’s what Bison officials were hoping to do for last Saturday’s playoff football game in the Fargodome. Falling short by about 7,000 fans, NDSU just might – and this is an awfully big might – get another chance to fill the dome with football fans.

If – and again this is a big if – the Bison were to knock off No. 6-ranked Montana State and Southeast Missouri State were to pull off an upset at Eastern Washington, NDSU could very well host a quarterfinal playoff game.

Despite the sentiment of disappointment that the Bison did not fill the dome with 19,000 fans, last Saturday night’s attendance of 12,202 probably impressed NCAA officials enough to let NDSU host another game – if, an only if, those big ifs become real.

Of the four first-round playoff games held last Saturday, NDSU had the largest crowd. Georgia Southern, which won, drew 10,214. Northern Iowa, which lost, drew only 5,990. And Coastal Carolina, which lost to Western Illinois, drew only 4,556.

Those numbers bode well for NDSU. The more tickets sold means the more money the NCAA makes.

Who’s to say this won’t happen? All the cards have been dealt right for the Bison so far. They not only were the last team to be selected for the 20-team field, they got placed into a pretty envious bracket.

Western Illinois now has to play at perennial power Appalachian State. Had Northern Iowa won, it would have had to travel to perennial power Delaware. Maybe that explains why the Panthers lost to Lehigh.

If indeed all the cards fall right for the Bison again this weekend, there’s another interesting little twist to all of this. NDSU’s second home playoff game in the Fargodome would have to be held on a Friday night (Dec. 10) – one night before that Bison-Sioux men’s basketball game Phillips was promoting.

That would give NDSU not one – but two more chances to pack the dome.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

or at kschnepf@forumcomm.com