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Kevin Schnepf, Published January 04 2012

Schnepf: Longtime NDSU ticket holder gets a look at Frisco stadium

Frisco, Texas - Bob Clark found the seat where he will watch North Dakota State’s football team play for a national championship. On Wednesday afternoon, three days before the Division I Football Championship Subdivision title game against Sam Houston State, Clark sat in his 50-yard line, front-row chair at FC Dallas Stadium.

For the 59-year-old Fargoan, it will be the 357th straight Bison football game he has attended – dating back to a 1982 game at Dacotah Field against Northern Michigan.

“Isn’t this a nice facility?” Clark said of the 20,000-seat stadium that normally holds professional soccer games for FC Dallas. “And look at all the room on the concourse level. I can now see how they had 5,000 standing-room tickets when David Beckham played here.”

Beckham, of course, is one of the most well-known professional soccer players in the world. But this week, FC Dallas Stadium (which recently changed its name from Pizza Hut Park) will be about football – a level of football NDSU has never experienced before.

Clark, who has been a generous donor with NDSU Team Makers since 1978, says the buzz over Bison football is 10 times that of the Division II glory days. He should know, having attended three Division II national championships in McAllen, Texas, and three more in Florence, Ala.

“In the 1983 championship game in McAllen, I would say there were only 400 to 500 Bison fans at that game,” Clark said. “And in 1990 in Florence, I bet we had only 1,500 fans – at the most.”

NDSU officials are expecting anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 Bison fans at Saturday’s game. And that number may have been even higher had NDSU been allotted more than the 4,000 tickets the NCAA allowed.

Much to the surprise of NDSU officials and fans, the game was a sellout only two days after the Bison won their Dec. 17 semifinal game over Georgia Southern. NDSU’s priority-points system left hundreds of Bison fans without tickets, something that has rarely happened during the 32-year history of this championship game.

Since 1978, this game has drawn more than 20,000 fans only 10 times, and only four times since 1997. That’s when Chattanooga, Tenn., started hosting this game up until 2009 – during which time the only matchups to draw more than 20,000 were Georgia Southern vs. Youngstown State, Appalachian State vs. Massachusetts and Appalachian State vs. Delaware.

“Before that we only allotted each school 3,000 tickets,” said Damani Leech of the NCAA. “But Appalachian State, an easy drive to Chattanooga, had great followings for three straight championship games. They were basically the reason for upping the allotment to 4,000.”

So with an expected sellout and a Bison crowd that could reach 10,000, does that mean the allotment could be increased for next year’s championship game?

NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor will be making a pitch to the NCAA that the two participating schools should get anywhere from 6,000 to 8,000 tickets. But it won’t be an easy sell.

“Every time we have a sellout, there is that talk,” said Leech, who has overseen this FCS championship game for the last 13 years. “What is the happy medium? Say we do decide to allow 7,000 tickets for each school. Then we get a team in the championship game that only wants the minimum 1,000 tickets. That’s not uncommon. Then we are left with a whole bunch of tickets to sell two to three weeks before the game.”

Leech said about 10,000 tickets were available for the general public through the NCAA. By the time the championship committee meets in February, it will have a good idea who purchased the tickets. Were more purchased from zip codes in the NDSU and Sam Houston State regions or more from the Frisco area?

“That will be interesting to see,” said Leech, who indicated it may be difficult to bump up the allotment. “Will this strictly be an NDSU phenomenon. Because how many years will we have followings like NDSU has? That’s always a difficult question to answer. I know it can be frustrating for fans, but it’s a good problem to have.”

What Bison fans can be assured of is next year’s championship game will be in Frisco – the final year of a three-year contract in which Frisco outbid the likes of Chattanooga, Little Rock, Missoula and Spokane. And judging by how much Leech smiles when asked about Frisco, this game will stay here for a few more years.

If the Bison are fortunate to reach another title game, Bob Clark could get close to 400 straight Bison games right here in Frisco.

“The sad thing is, I think there will be some empty seats on Saturday,” Clark said. “I know there will be some corporate tickets that probably won’t be used. It’s too bad it happened the way it did.”

A lot different than the days of McAllen and Florence.


Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or kschnepf@forumcomm.com. Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com