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October 03, 2004

Who ever thought an $8 million budget would be too little?

NDSU’s ascension to D1 ranks will entail patience, hard work, investment and, uh, patience

by Gene Taylor
Athletic Director
North Dakota State University

The sports world is saturated with inspirational stories about the individual or group, who, due to extraordinary circumstances, found themselves overmatched. Then, in typical Hollywood fairy tale fashion, the underdog reaches deep, plays over his / her head, and rises above it all.

How do these things happen? It’s the oft repeated phenomenon of realizing abilities never known to exist, due to the raising of the bar, the adrenaline and the inexplicable passion of it all.

Rocky Balboa, the ’69 Amazing Mets, the 1980 gold medal USA Olympic hockey team … who would have known?

For me, it was Mardi Gras at the University of Montana on Sept. 6, 2003. The No. 3-ranked Division I-AA Grizzlies took on my D-2 North Dakota State team. It was the season home opener, and a Grizzly Stadium record crowd of 23,102. The Grizzlies took a commanding 24-2 lead into the locker room at halftime.

But NDSU mounted an inspiring second half comeback, highlighted by a 20-yard touchdown pass off of a fake field goal with 2:13 remaining in the game. Thus, North Dakota State spoiled the biggest party in the state, taking a 25-24 upset.

Talk about rising above it all.


I AM NOT A NORTH DAKOTA NATIVE, but I’ve been here long enough to get perturbed by the incessant NoDak put-downs. While the unenlightened will always imagine—or fabricate—tall tales of North Dakota as perpetually windswept tundra of barrenness and starkness, I have come to admire the attractions of non-congestion, fresh air, peace, quiet and relaxation.

And while those same critics might portray North Dakotans as bland, unexciting people, I have come to know them as hard-working, genuine people of exemplary values and convictions.

Although North Dakotans have little need to gain the validation of the outside world, there is, nonetheless, a desire to elevate our horizons and ambitions to the prevailing standards of national competition.

At the university level, the existing gold standard of competition is NCAA Division I status. It is no coincidence that NDSU has pursued the D-1 classification. After years of dominance at the D-2 level, we want to elevate Bison athletics to the definitive national standard of college competition.

NDSU had an extremely successful D-2 history. We are more than ready to step up the degree of difficulty in search of ongoing excellence. Competing with the best always brings out the best.

There many examples in sports history. Like Ali-Fraizer. Russell-Chamberlain. UConn-Duke.

NO ONE IN OUR PROGRAM is wearing rose-colored glasses and viewing the move to D-1 as a quick and easy transition. There are significant differences in competition levels, coaching skills, budget outlays, scholarships, travel and strength of schedule.

We are gradually increasing the NDSU budget to a seemingly huge amount of $7.7 million. However, as we move closer to “D-1 Day,” the full impact of incremental costs is making the bigger budget seem smaller and smaller. Go figure. Meanwhile, some established D-1 programs in our region have budgets in the neighborhood of $10-12 million range.

We have taken a methodical and measured approach in planning for our move to D-1, and have taken great pains to calibrate the expectations of our various stakeholders. Nonetheless, the pressures will be formidable to win fast and win often.

Long accustomed to perennial championship teams in D-2 competition, the NDSU faithful will have to be patient as the program builds to meet the challenges of D-1 athletics. There will be growing pains. Initially, our victories will come in the form of inspired play and upset wins, instead of championship trophies.

Our goal is to build winning teams sooner rather than later. We are taking an aggressive approach during the transition. Our scholarships will nearly double over a four-year period (from 97 to 172). We also plan to put our resources into recruiting and hiring additional staff to accelerate the transition process.

The question still remains. How long will alumni, students, fans and our administration be patient?

AGAINST THIS DAUNTING BACKDROP, one might wonder whether the benefits of going D-1 are worth it. After exhaustive analysis and research, we have concluded that our reclassification will definitely be worthwhile.

We believe the move to D-1 will provide a payback in the following areas:

• State and regional pride,

• Increased alumni, corporate and community support,

• More academic giving,

• A better quality student application profile, and

• A more diverse student population.

There are several prominent examples of D-1 successes that have provided the payback elements listed above. UConn comes quickly to mind with their dominating performances, particularly in men’s and women’s basketball. UConn’s success story spans two decades. However, these sustained successes do not happen overnight.

Ultimately, it all comes down to the pride of competing at the top level. And that’s where we’re headed at North Dakota State University.


Gene Taylor has been Athletic Director at North Dakota State for three years. His previous position before taking the helm at NDSU was Associate Athletic Director at Navy. Gene has an extensive D-1 background, including 15 years at Navy and two years at SMU. Despite being a hot-weather native (Arizona), he seems to have adjusted readily to NoDak’s somewhat harsher clime.