Bison bask in fiscal glory of first football title
North Dakota State is reaping the benefits of the school's first Division I football championship.
The Bison defeated Sam Houston State 17-6 Saturday for the Football Championship Subdivision title. NDSU, a former Division II powerhouse, moved up to Division I in 2004 and became eligible for the playoffs in the division formerly known as I-AA in 2008.
Bison athletic director Gene Taylor said the next step will be managing what he calls the hangover effects of winning.
Taylor, who was hired to manage the transition to Division I, said the championship run has been a profitable in terms of booster club contributions, ticket sales, advertising and corporate donations. He said he can't put a dollar amount on it, but estimates those benefits to be at least in the six-figure range.
''In terms of exposure from the three-hour football game, to the national stories and national media, if you were to purchase that kind of airtime and coverage it would be in the million number,'' Taylor said Monday.
Pat Simmers, executive director of Team Makers, the school's booster club, said the group has received more than $80,000 in new money and 50 new season-ticket orders in the last few weeks.
He expects the club, which currently has 1,822 members, to reach its goal of 2,000 and season-ticket orders, which went over 9,300 in August, to top 10,000.
''I've had five people in my office today,'' Simmers said Monday. ''Right now we're just building lists; we're not even assigning seats. It's just been a whirlwind.''
Winning has it challenges. Taylor said he wouldn't be surprised to see some of his coaches courted by other schools, particularly defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton and offensive coordinator Brent Vigen. The Bison had the No. 1 scoring defense in the country and shut down what had been a high-powered Sam Houston State offense in the finale.
''We're going to do everything we can to keep them here, within reason,'' Taylor said. ''Certainly we can't pay them anything they want, but we want to make sure they're fairly compensated.''
Taylor said the long season could have mixed results on recruiting for coach Craig Bohl and his staff. The exposure of a national title should entice new players, but coaches have been limited in how much time they've spent recruiting.
''I will say that Craig learned from last year's playoff run on how to balance the recruiting better,'' Taylor said. ''Nobody has signed yet, but there have been some commitments, obviously.''
The Bison outscored opponents 102-27 in four playoff games. They held Sam Houston State to 210 yards total offense in the championship, half its season average. The Bearkats came into the game with the nation's highest-scoring FCS offense at 39 points per game.
''We've been playing really well as a defense throughout the playoffs,'' NDSU linebacker Chad Willson said after the victory. ''And to come and hold a team like Sam Houston to six points, it's a pretty big deal.''
The Bison were 6-5 and 3-8 in their two years of playoff eligibility. They squeaked into the playoffs last year after finishing 4-4 in league play and lost in the quarterfinal round to eventual champion Eastern Washington.
''We had a couple of tough years there,'' Bohl said. ''And our guys wanted to make sure they returned Bison football back to national prominence. It's not easy to do.''
The Bison graduate nine starters, as well as their punter and kicker. They return several key players, including their quarterback, leading rusher and top tackler.
Taylor said the Bison expect to compete for the Missouri Valley Football Conference title and make the playoffs on a regular basis, but repeating as champion is difficult. There have been new champions in each of the last four years, following a three-year run by Appalachian State.
''We do have good players coming back,'' Taylor said. ''I think you need to manage the hangover effects, if you will. Is that same hunger going to be there? There is that concern when you have some success.''