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Kevin Schnepf, Published November 30 2012

Schnepf: NDSU-SDSU has been more friendly than fierce

FARGO - What would Wilmot Wood Brookings and William George Fargo think about today’s college football game between South Dakota State and North Dakota State?

Brookings, the first provincial governor of the Dakota Territory, was a pioneer and frontier judge for whom the city was named where the SDSU campus now sits.

Fargo, who brought the railroad to Centralia, was a New York tycoon for whom the city was renamed where the NDSU campus now sits.

I would wager Brookings and Fargo would exchange a friendly handshake today in front of 19,000 Fargodome fans – much like SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier and NDSU coach Craig Bohl will before today’s “Battle of the Dakotas.”

After all, the Lakota Sioux Indian definition of Dakota is: “friend, friendly, allies.” In essence, those are words that

oddly describe the NDSU-SDSU rivalry manufactured back in spring 2004.

There isn’t the hate that the in-state rivalries of the Dakota Territory created. Friendly is hardly the way to describe NDSU’s rivalry with the University of North Dakota – which started in 1894, 15 years after Centralia became Fargo.

“It’s not your standard rivalry where it is so competitive that it becomes almost uncomfortable,” said Gene Taylor, NDSU’s athletic director. Taylor experienced three UND games before the rivalry ended in 2003.

Nor is friendly the word to describe SDSU’s rivalry with the University of South Dakota – which started in 1889, six years after Brookings was founded and the same year the Dakota Territory was split into two states.

“It’s a rivalry, but it doesn’t have the nasty parts that some other rivalries have,” said Justin Sell, SDSU’s athletic director since 2009. He experienced his first Coyote game when the rivalry was renewed two weeks ago.

There’s a reason for all this niceness.

Nearly a decade ago, NDSU and SDSU became allies in making the bold move to NCAA Division I. And together, they have mirrored each other in a growth that has dismissed any doubts about leaving Division II.

The similarities are endless.

The two land-grant universities boast strong agricultural, engineering and pharmacy colleges. NDSU has an enrollment of 14,443, SDSU 12,583.

The athletic budgets have skyrocketed: NDSU’s to

$15 million and SDSU’s to $14 million. The booster clubs keep raising more: NDSU’s Team Makers at $2.3 million per year and SDSU’s Jackrabbit Club at $1.1 million.

Both schools continue to upgrade facilities. NDSU will open a new indoor track soon and hopes to start renovating the Bison Sports Arena soon. SDSU has plans to build an indoor practice football facility and turn its 50-year old football stadium into a 20,000-seat venue, which is a couple thousand seats shy of holding the entire population of Brookings.

“NDSU has proven you can put 19,000 plus people in a facility week in and week out … we hope to do the same,” Sell said. “We certainly have a lot of respect for what NDSU has accomplished. They certainly make us better and they make us work harder so we can continue to compete.”

SDSU’s football team has found a way to compete at the Division I level, much in the same fashion that helped NDSU claim its national championship last season.

One look at today’s roster will tell you both teams recruit from the same 12 states. Most of SDSU’s players come from South Dakota (20), Minnesota (15), Nebraska (15) and Iowa (11). Most of NDSU’s players come from Minnesota (35), North Dakota (19) and Wisconsin (12).

“The philosophies are very similar in terms of the types of kids we get: hard-working, hard-nosed football players,” Taylor said. “They don’t need a lot of flash and bang. They pretty much outwork their opponents.”

Today’s dilemma is that SDSU and NDSU are indeed opponents. This will be their 100th game against each other dating back to 1903, but it marks the first time they will meet in the playoffs.

A win would be a giant step for SDSU’s building process. A Bison win could certainly pave the way for another national championship.

“We want to beat each other really bad,” Sell said. “But at the end of the game, we’ll shake hands and go back to our campuses.”

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or kschnepf@forumcomm.com