North Dakota State will host the first Missouri Valley Football Conference matchup with the University of North Dakota in 2020. Grand Forks Herald colleague Brad Schlossman broke that news yesterday.
That means NDSU will host UND in back to back years, as the Fighting Hawks will come to Fargo next year as part of the final game of a two game agreement that was agreed to back in August of 2014. The Bison won the first matchup between the old rivals, 34-9 in September of 2015.
There should be no surprise that NDSU and UND will be playing every year, that was anticipated when the Fighting Hawks were accepted into the league. One of the more popular questions I’ve received is what happens to the conference schedule when UND joins? Nine conference games? Eight conference games? Divisional play? We know the league is staying at eight games and divisions aren’t happening.
I asked Valley commish Patty Viverito about the rotation of games back in August and she told me that “the league will protect regional rivalries. Rivalries without exception have to do with geography, if you can bus to a team, that team will remain on the schedule.”
I followed up if that the western half of the league would be top heavy: “Its a blessing and curse, it’s a gauntlet of games, awful lot of opportunities to get top 25 wins. We did a lot of study with North Dakota being added, looked at pure rotation, protecting matchups, what it came down to best alternative, being fiscally responsible and preserving as many bus trips as possible that coincidentally protects rivalries.”
What that means is NDSU will play SDSU, USD, UND and likely Northern Iowa every year. Frankly, that’s how it should be, those are traditional rivals for the Bison and if there were years where those teams were not on the schedule it would seem weird. Where the schedule gets wonky for me is that the balance is out of whack. Illinois State, Western Illinois, Indiana State, Southern Illinois, Missouri State and Youngstown State are not nearly as successful as the other five schools. Two of those schools haven’t made the playoffs in the last eight years, while every team in the “western” half of the league has made the playoffs in the last two years. That to me seems disproportional.
I understand that we live in an age of fiscal responsibility and schools need to keep an eye on their budgets. Indiana State, SIU and Youngstown were the main roadblocks to adding NDSU and SDSU to the league back in 2007, putting safeguards in that they wouldn’t travel to the Dakotas twice. My fear is that the league “vultures” itself even more so than what’s happened in past year. You could see teams possibly going 2-1 in non-conference than 4-4 in Valley play and hoping 6-5 would get them into the postseason. That has worked out for the Valley, ask Western Illinois and Illinois State in recent years. But that’s not a guarantee to get 4-5 teams into the postseason as the conference would hope to do every year.
One other note on NDSU’s future conference scheduling, a source told me that “NDSU will play Youngstown State every year. How does that make sense that the two schools furthest apart play another?” The answer? It doesn’t. NDSU and Youngstown have played every year since the Bison joined the league in 2008 and it appears that’s not going to end anytime soon. We know on the current rotation that Indiana State is off the Bison schedule in 2018 and 2019. Two schools will drop off for the Bison starting in 2020. We now know that UND, USD, SDSU, Youngstown and likely UNI will be there. So that means either Western, Indiana State, Illinois State, SIU or Mo State will be left off and with apologies to those schools, perhaps two Bison wins in the process.