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KOLPACK: Week Zero for FCS football teams ended up like Coke Zero

North Dakota State's Darrius Shepherd hauls in a touchdown reception against Charleston Southern's Troy McGowens Saturday, August 27, 2016, at the Fargodome. David Samson / Forum News Service

FARGO — It was the toast of the FCS, with the schools involved in the ESPN Kickoff Classic practically popping the champagne corks in celebration of being one of the two select teams to open the college football season. The few. The proud.

And now it's back to the way it was.

The forgotten.

That's life in the FCS when it comes to national attention. Somebody came up with the idea of beginning a week earlier than everybody else, put the game on ESPN and you're the only football party in America on a Saturday at the end of August.

Starved for football in Tuscaloosa, Ala.? Watch Sam Houston State at Eastern Washington in 2014. Hungry for football in Clemson, S.C.? Flip on North Dakota State at Montana in 2015 and listen to Brent Musburger do the play-by-play.

Sitting around after a sweltering summer August day in Baton Rouge, La.? You can watch NDSU and Charleston Southern in 2016 play indoors at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. The Sam Houston game was on Aug. 23, the Bison-Grizzlies on Aug. 29 and NDSU and Charleston last year on Aug. 27.

But, sadly for the exposure-starved FCS, that train has derailed. Come up with a neat idea and then watch the big FBS brothers steal your thunder.

It spawned a new name: Week Zero, in reference to beginning before Week 1. There were eight games last week with most being FBS programs. The ESPN FCS Kickoff game was Chattanooga at Jacksonville State but that tended to get lost in the shuffle with the other games.

I'm sure Rice vs. No. 14 Stanford in Sydney, Australia, San Jose State against No. 19 South Florida or Oregon State at Colorado State had more appeal for the average American college football viewer.

The FCS Kickoff Classic: We hardly knew ya'.

As for the entire concept, Bison head coach Chris Klieman would probably utter the following phrase: See ya', wouldn't want to be ya'. Or maybe another, like "good riddance."

As cool as it was for the institutions involved, it was a grind inside the clubhouse. Klieman would rather duff a box of ProV1s in the Oxbow Country Club water ponds than have to prepare his team for a Week Zero game. It required starting fall practice a week earlier than everybody else and although you could say: It's just a week? What's the big deal? The reality is it makes it a longer drive to the ultimate goal: Frisco, Texas.

"I was glad we weren't playing because then we would have come in on about July 20," Klieman said with a chuckle.

He was joking, but not really. Fall camp, as they call it even though it's still the heat of summer, is long enough. It's even longer now that the NCAA has banned two-a-day practices, instituted a one-day-off-per-week mandate but teams still have 29 allowable practice sessions before the first game. It means almost an extra week of practice.

Plus, Klieman said, without the Week Zero game, it sets up for every Missouri Valley Football Conference team playing 11 games in a 12-week span. That includes eight conference games in a row without a bye week.

For everybody. It makes for a more consistent and fair Valley schedule. The Bison have rarely been beaten after a bye week in their Division I existence and any team having two weeks to prepare for a league game while your opponent has one is just not the right thing to do.

As cool as it was to play some golf in August, go home and watch some FCS football, the little brothers of Division I football went the way of Coke Zero on this deal.

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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