BY JEREMY HOECK
Of the 8,012 people in attendance Saturday afternoon for the USD vs. UC Davis football game in the DakotaDome was Missouri Valley Football Conference commissioner Patty Viverito.
The first stop on her league-wide tour this season — she said she plans to hit all nine conference cities — came in Vermillion, where she explored USD’s Tailgate Nation and watched the Coyotes beat the Aggies 10-7.
Of course, the big news around the conference Saturday was the Friday night upset of North Dakota State over Kansas State. (Saturday night saw another league team, Northern Iowa, score an FBS win, over Iowa State).
Viverito took a few minutes before leaving town to answer a couple questions about the NDSU upset, what it means for the league and what she experienced in Vermillion.
Did you watch the NDSU game?
I played every down (laughs), I was exhausted. When Kansas State didn’t score to go into halftime, and they (NDSU) missed that field goal off the upright, I thought, ‘Uh oh, I hope that doesn’t come back to haunt them.’ Kansas State just came back like crazy, but if there’s anyone who can come back, it was them (NDSU). I was so glad they didn’t abandon their game plan; but talk about poise. That eight and a half minute drive to end the game was as much fun as the national championship.
From a league perspective, I imagine it was like, ‘We’ve seen this before, it’s not a huge surprise.’
They’re giant killers, that’s for sure. They’ve earned the right to be respected at every level. One thing I didn’t know, after staying up late and watching SportsCenter like three times, was that Lou Holtz called it. They played video from earlier in the week and he said, ‘Don’t think these guys don’t have a chance. They’re going to win in Manhattan.’ He didn’t just say, ‘Oh, it could happen,’ he picked the Bison. Suddenly I’m a Lou Holtz fan (laughs).
Certainly coach Craig Bohl has the program in piece to compete at that level. What would you attribute that to?
They weren’t unbeatable five years ago. This is a team that has been built, and what that needs to tell everyone else in the Missouri Valley is that you can do it too. We’ve got a pretty interesting history, too. The first year that Youngstown State was in the league, they finished third in the league and won the national championship. For a couple years I kept telling everybody that it was harder to win the league championship than the national championship. But it was true. Craig would be the first one to tell you, they didn’t go undefeated the last two years, they lost to conference teams at home. I just think it speaks to the depth of this league.
Exposure-wise, have you gotten some feedback on the win?
It’s been a fun 24 hours. When you get the exposure of being on national television, Fox Sports One, it’s huge. I’ll you that someone at ESPN texted me to say, ‘Great win for the Bison, great win for the Valley.’ I’m glad ESPN is paying attention, because they (NDSU) deserve it.
Wins like that, with North Dakota State, doesn’t that show you that there’s really not much of a disparity between FCS and FBS?
There really isn’t, you’re right. We’ve always contended for a long time that the bottom quartile of FBS and the top quartile of FCS, there’s really not much different. They get more scholarships than we do, so they get a built-in advantage. But they’re certainly not better teams or better programs, in terms of history and fan support.
What’d you think of your day in Vermillion?
I came early because I wanted to check out tailgating, and just to see what it was about. There’s so much good going on here. To know that you’re coming off a tough season last year, it was going to be really important to see the level of enthusiasm for this program. I was so happy to see the fans, the band; and I loved the student section. I loved that president (Jim) Abbott was in the section with the ‘Crazies,’ with a shirt. That’s what this level of football needs to be about. When it’s rewarded with great play and a win, even better.