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Kolpack: Inconsistent league schedule, team play doing Bison basketball atmosphere no favors

Interior view of the of the new Scheels Center at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex. David Samson / Forum News Service

FARGO—The Summit League reached No. 12 last week in conference RPI, the power ranking system that determines the strongest leagues of the 32 in Division I men's basketball. It represented the biggest gain from any conference from a year ago with an improvement of eight spots.

There have been some notable wins, like Fort Wayne defeating Indiana for the second straight year, although a win over the Hoosiers isn't as big as it used to be. South Dakota State beat Iowa and Mississippi; and Oral Roberts and North Dakota State both defeated Missouri State.

There have been enough other quality wins against top mid-major conference teams to validate the Summit's standing just outside the Power Five-type leagues. It's setting up to be another dazzling Summit League tournament in Sioux Falls in the beginning of March.

Now if only something can be done with the schedule. Man, it gets hard to follow.

The timing of home conference games this year has not been NDSU's friend.

The Bison have three weeks this season where there is one league home game per week. There are two weeks where there are two home games, and one of them is this week. The Bison lost to the University of Denver 67-61 on Thursday night, Jan. 11, and host Oral Roberts on Saturday afternoon, Jan. 13.

So far, attendance at Scheels Center at Sanford Health Athletic Complex has been OK at best. Normally, the SDSU game is the marquee attraction, but it came over semester break and during the week of the FCS national title game. The crowd was announced as 3,182 in an arena that carries a capacity of 5,700.

Classes resumed on Tuesday, Jan. 9, but you would have never known it judging by the number of students at the Denver game. Attendance was 2,543. The last two games combined are right about at the capacity of the Scheels Center. The average for the season is 2,312, which is 41 percent of capacity.

It remains to be seen if the football hangover will be short-term or an extended stay. Granted, the team isn't doing its part to create any excitement, either, dropping three of its last five games at home.

"That's the epitome of where we're at a little bit right now," said head coach Dave Richman. "We're on the roller coaster. But you're not as good as you think you are and you're not as bad as you think you are. We go on the road, beat the No. 2 preseason team and then at home lose a couple. You have to understand in life, the classroom and basketball and that nothing is going to be easy."

What's the solution? Membership is in flux. The University of North Dakota comes into the Summit next year to makes it nine teams. That's even more of a nightmare of a schedule. And who knows if Fort Wayne follows Indiana Purdue-Indianapolis to the Horizon League or if Omaha and the Missouri Valley Conference come to an agreement.

That's out of NDSU's control.

What's in its control is to re-evaluate the atmosphere after the season. Everything should be on the table. It's not happenin' right now. Maybe the cost of the ticket is too high. Maybe the students don't like their seats on the end. Maybe the music isn't cool. Maybe add free wi-fi. Maybe Saturday afternoon games are good for football, but not for basketball. Maybe add a skyway to some hip bar in the new complex going up across University Drive.

Or maybe reincarnate a Dexter, L.A., Braun or Woodside.

Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at www.bisonmedia.areavoices.com. On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.
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