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UND gears up for Big Sky teams
Coach Chris Mussmann leads his team into another level of competition
In six days, the Fighting Sioux football team will open the 2011-2012 season against Drake. It will be UND’s fourth and final year in the transition phase since moving from DII to DI. For those who were around when the Sioux were playing wildly entertaining DII games against legitimate rivals, it has been a long three years for Sioux football fans.
This is spoken from a resident of Grand Forks from my first day on this Earth. I remember going to Memorial Stadium and freezing my ass off with my Dad and Grandpa. I remember attending the first game ever at the Alerus Center and enjoying the confines of an indoor stadium. But most importantly, I remember being at games when fans packed the place full and were passionate from the opening kickoff till the final snap.
Football hasn’t been the same in the Alerus Center since UND has become a DI program. The decision to move up to a higher level of competition was a long-term move, in which fans have had to endure short-term pains. To be frank: UND football hasn’t been interesting since the transition period started taking place.
In UND’s best years in DII, the program’s popularity rivaled the hockey team which isn’t an easy thing in an area where it seems like everyone played hockey, grew up watching hockey or wished they had the ability to play hockey.
Now, the hockey team holds the stage and spotlight to itself. If UND sports were a kingdom, the hockey team would reign over it. There are three reasons why hockey is No. 1 in this town: 1) As already stated North Dakota loves hockey and so do our neighbors to the east in Minnesota, 2) The hockey team plays meaningful games and has built significant rivalries against much of the WCHA, 3) Duh, winning! (Yes I’m aware all Charlie Sheen jokes became old five minutes after his Today Show interview). All kidding aside, we live in a society that loves winners. It’s a simple premise: win and people will show up to watch. Win and people will talk about you. Win and people care.
In its fourth year as a DI school, the Sioux has compiled a modest 15-17 record. Considering the team has had to make a leap in competition and has had to travel farther distances, it wouldn’t be fair to judge the progress of the program based on its win-loss record. It is going to be important for the Sioux to start compounding wins, as the coaching staff has had plenty of time to gather DI talent over the past three years. And with the impending move to the Big Sky Conference after this season, the Sioux need to build momentum on the field to get top recruits to come here.
There’s no questioning that the passion for Sioux football has died down the past few years and it’s understandable. A move to a legitimate conference should ignite fans interest—no offense to the Great West Conference but there aren’t exactly a lot of people clamoring to see the Sioux host the likes of Cal Poly, Southern Utah and UC Davis. South Dakota is UND’s only true rival right now and it pales in comparison to the rivalry the Sioux once had with NDSU.
I’m not trying to dismiss the last three years of hard work the Sioux football team has put in and am definitely not trying to take away from all the hours coaches put in, but from a student and fan’s perspective, it’s been hard to get excited about games that lack the intensity that future Big Sky games will offer. Nevertheless, this is the most important year in UND’s transition phase, as it will be key to get younger players game experience to be ready for next year when the games will truly count. The groundwork has been laid; now it’s time for the Sioux to start to build something to reengage the fans and maximize its dome-field advantage.
By Brandon Becker, Dakota Student