FARGO -- After all these years and terse comments by North Dakota State fans over not hosting Montana State in the 2013 regular season, the Bobcats are finally coming to Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. This time, they had to.
They’ll be the visiting team for the Division I FCS second-round playoff game Saturday, Dec. 1. The Bobcats were originally slated to be that team in September of 2013, but MSU exercised a buyout option in the game contract leaving the Bison searching for an opponent.
NDSU ended up with NCAA Division II Ferris State (Mich.).
The episode prompted the Bison administration to change its philosophy in scheduling non-conference games, specifically making the buyout hurt more. The Montana State buyout in 2013 was $100,000, which wasn’t a big deal to the Bobcats since they turned that open date into a home game against Monmouth University (N.J.) and a guarantee game at Southern Methodist.
Athletic director Matt Larsen said the buyout is now around $400,000, which is also a typical figure for an FBS guarantee.
“I think a lot more schools are moving in that direction,” Larsen said. “A fair amount of them have been burned. You’re seeing a lot more schools making the buyout higher for canceling contracts.”
Montana State is one of three schools who chose not to come to the Fargodome in NDSU’s Division I era. The University of Montana did not honor the back half of a home-and-home after NDSU went to Missoula in 2003. The Grizzlies and NDSU later scheduled a home-and-home for 2014 and 2015.
Western Carolina was slated to be the home opener in 2016, but the Catamounts instead chose to mail NDSU a $200,000 check. They played at FBS East Carolina to open that season.
“That one put us in a tough spot with the timing,” Larsen said. “It was January and most of the time in a perfect world you would like to schedule at least one to two years ahead.”
It put NDSU in a tough spot both in finding a game and in financial bargaining power in trying to land another opponent. The Bison ended up paying Charleston Southern a $300,000 guarantee to come to Fargo.
“They had more leverage over us than we did,” Larsen said.
The 2013 Montana State buyout was traced back several years to negotiations between Montana State and former NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor. The teams had a home-and-home deal beginning in 2005 with Montana State beating NDSU 20-17 in Bozeman that season.
The return date was expected to be in 2007, but the Bobcats opted for a $10,000 buyout. That apparently turned into the 2013 date, which was signed in 2009.
The scheduling hopscotch was probably why Taylor was steamed when he found out the Bobcats shunned the 2013 game, too.
“Really angry, really disappointed,” Taylor said at the time. “Stunned. I just don’t understand it. It’s really disappointing for our fan base. We uphold our end of the bargain … they they tell us in late February. It’s not how we do business here.”
NDSU’s non-conference scheduling business has shifted to other areas with FBS games not routinely on the schedule. The Bison are at Oregon in 2020, at Arizona in 2022 and at Colorado in 2024.
They’ve gone other directions like a home-and-home against Delaware this year and next season and a game against Butler University (Ind.) at Target Field in Minneapolis next September. That appears to be popular with the Bison fan base. At least 25,000 to 27,000 tickets in a stadium that seats 39,504 have been sold, Larsen said.
Attempts to reach a Twins ticket official on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
“Those are the type of things we’ll look to do if we can’t get an FBS game,” Larsen said.