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Column: How NDSU’s media guidelines could impact small schools

A North Dakota State Bison helmet during the game between the North Dakota State Bison and the Jacksonville State Gamecocks at the FCS Championship at Toyota Stadium in Frisco,Texas. North Dakota beats Jacksonville State for it's fifth straight championship 37-10. (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire)
(Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire)

First things first: so few people actually care about FCS football and mid-major basketball it hurts. Through my travels, I have found some people who do care, but there’s a common theme with them.

They either attended one of those small schools or know people on a team. Beyond that, finding people who care is incredibly hard.

Which makes North Dakota State’s new media guidelines even more head scratching.

For those that don’t know, NDSU is the one FCS team that people know about. They’ve housed ESPN’s College Gameday a few times, their quarterback Carson Wentz just went second overall in the NFL Draft and they’ve won five straight national titles.

With this kind of success, changing things up a bit makes sense. It’s what all the big programs do. NDSU’s problem is that it is not a big program. Some consider the Bison to be the Alabama of the FCS, but the perception is the equivalent of Lubbock Christian going undefeated for the DII women’s basketball national title and Connecticut’s women going undefeated on their way to the DI national title. It’s a fun story, but nobody’s buying that they’re on the same level.

Here are the new guidelines NDSU’s athletic department as put in place. In a nutshell, it basically says any media entity not part of their media rights package for televised games aren’t allowed to do radio or film any game action and use it on their website or TV network.

NDSU, as well as the Summit League for basketball and Missouri Valley conference for football, have their rights with a local television network called Midco Sports. Most of these games are also made available on ESPN3.

Given the area, it’s nice that fans have a specific destination to watch their teams, but outside of this region, so few people care about FCS football. NDSU limiting media accessibility can only hinder people finding out about the team/sport/conference and becoming fans themselves.

FCS football is considered the equivalent to mid-major basketball because, well, the conferences and schools that are in mid-major conferences for basketball, for the most part, are FCS programs. Despite having its own national championship, if you’re not personally involved with one of those programs, you don’t care about it.

Actually, even that doesn’t guarantee fans. There are a growing number of students in these level of schools that have no interest in sports or would rather watch and support the big names like Ohio State than the team their school has.

While there’s a need for programs that expand to have some control over who has access, NDSU has outdone itself here, and not in a good way. Not only does this have lasting implications for Bison athletics, it also has implications for FCS football and Summit League basketball.

Fans don’t get many chances to see the Summit League, or most of the mid-majors, so when it comes time for the NCAA Tournament, viewers are constantly asking “who the heck are they?” It’s frustrating as a college basketball fan and an avid supporter of the little guys. But most of it has to do with the ESPNs of the world not wanting to show their games on TV because their viewership numbers would be so low.

But here is NDSU, the most dominant FCS team with a pretty solid basketball team (three NCAA Tournament appearances since 2008) and people want to cover them, but now many of those that do want to cover them now won’t be able to.

If you want coverage of your teams at this level, you don’t limit the ability to do so, you embrace it. Brand building is a huge for FCS football and mid-major basketball and part of that building comes from outlets giving teams publicity. If you cut down on the outlets that can give you coverage, it’s going to limit the number of people who want to give you coverage.

Even though these new guidelines are mainly for TV and radio purposes, it says a lot about how NDSU views itself. They’ve grown a lot over the last five years but now they may be too big for their own good, at least in their own minds.

Take this as a heads up. If you didn’t care about a team that’s won five straight national titles before, it’s going to be a lot harder to care about them now.

This move has far-reaching implications and can only end poorly. Then again, maybe NDSU is moving to the Big 12. That’d be the only reason this move makes sense.

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