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WAYNE NELSON: Interview with Coach Bubba Schweigert on rivalry

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When Bubba Schweigert took his first look at UND’s 2014 football schedule, something didn’t look right.

The schedule did not include rival North Dakota State.

“It hit me when I looked at our schedule and the game wasn’t on there,” said Bubba. “NDSU is 70 miles down the road and we’re traveling all over the country to give our players an experience you think is fun and challenging.

“But one of our biggest challenges and one of our most exciting opportunities is probably 70 miles away.”

His statement leads to this question:

If someone other than Bubba had been named the UND head coach back in January, would that coach have asked to schedule the Bison as quickly as possible — knowing he faced a major rebuilding job while NDSU is at the top of the FCS world?

That’s debatable. But it’s not up for debate with Bubba.

“If you’re not willing to challenge your program, you’re not in this for the right reasons,” said Bubba. “We aspire to play the top teams in the country and compete with them. Our goal for the program is to move to the top of the Big Sky and be noticed on the national scene. This game will challenge our program.”

No coach or administrator at either UND or NDSU has a better grasp on the importance — and the tradition — of the game more than Bubba. And that’s why he wants the rivalry to resume, ASAP.

Bubba grew up with the game, observing the state’s best sporting event first from his home in Zeeland, a small town that epitomizes North Dakota. “We’re a bunch of small-town people and crowds of 18,000, 13,000, 15,000 for that one event … well, that’s a pretty big deal for us,” he said.

For 15 seasons, Bubba was a UND assistant coach in the game that made the state stand still for a day. As time has passed since the last UND-NDSU game in 2003, we forget just how much of an impact that game had on the state.

“It’s different than any other game,” said Bubba. “As coaches, we try to say it’s like any other week. But it’s a different week.”

Bubba said resuming the rivalry wasn’t his priority when he became UND’s coach in January. However, in his quiet — but persistent — demeanor, it’s obvious he championed the case to resume the rivalry.

“I didn’t make it a priority from the start but as we traveled around the state recruiting this summer, it was clear that it was important to a lot of people,” said Bubba. “When you combine that with the student-athlete experience, I just felt it was something we should work to accomplish.

“I was happy our administration was willing to put forth the effort to make it happen.”

Also, UND and NDSU faced a now-or-never. The window on the 2015 game was closing fast. Had no agreement been reached, who knows if the 2019 game would have remained on the table?

“How long are you going to wait,” Bubba asked.

He wasn’t about to find out.

“It’s the right thing to do.”

Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
(701) 780-1268