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Brad Schlossman, Published June 24 2012

Schlossman: Most differences between NDSU football and UND hockey difficult to measure

There’s one part of the North Dakota-North Dakota State rivalry that will never be settled on the field.

That’s the long-standing debate between which flagship program at each school is a bigger deal: UND hockey or Bison football.

In an attempt to examine both programs, Forum Communications compiled a number of different statistics. To get some added perspective, I contacted a friend who not only attended both schools, but also was a season-ticket holder for both programs.

It was of no help.

He laughed and simply said: “No good can come from this.”

Having lived in Fargo for 18 years and Grand Forks for 12 – and having attended countless Bison football and UND hockey games – I know this as well as he does.

Both are the biggest events in their towns, both put out entertaining products, both have devout fan bases and most people have a personal preference that’s not going to change.

Yes, there are more similarities than you would think for two programs that play different sports in different conferences at different levels. They both rank at or near the top of their levels in attendance, winning percentage and budgets.

One of the differences, though, is the levels at which they play.

NDSU plays in the Football Championship Subdivision. It’s the second tier of NCAA Division I football behind the Football Bowl Subdivision.

That’s not a knock – the level of play is entertaining, and the players are quite talented. A few will go on to have pro careers. NDSU has had five of its players drafted by the NFL since 2000 – four earning an NFL paycheck last season.

UND’s hockey team competes at what is equivalent to the FBS of hockey. By comparison, UND has had 47 players drafted in the NHL since 2000 – 11 in the first round – and 17 earned NHL paychecks last season.

Many go on to be among the world’s top players. For example, one was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, another was one of the captains of the Stanley Cup champion team and another has been on the cover of an EA Sports video game, the cover of Sports Illustrated and the cover of ESPN The Magazine in the past two and a half years.

Although football is clearly more popular in America than hockey, the pedigree of the hockey players continually draws media from around the country to Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Sports Illustrated came to do a seven-page feature on the Lamoureux family. Three of the four highest-circulation newspapers in the country have been at the Ralph in the past two years to do stories – the Los Angeles Times came to write about Derek Forbort; the New York Times came to write about Matt Frattin; the Wall Street Journal came to write about the arena.

Other comparisons – such as the passion of NDSU football and UND hockey fans and the impact that both programs have on their team’s athletic department and the school as a whole – are much harder to make.

This much is clear, though: Both programs are successful, both drive the bus at their school, neither is showing any sign of slowing down ... and this debate will live for years to come.


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Brad Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald