Patrick Reusse
See more of the story

The NCAA split the top level of college football into Division I-A and Division I-AA for the 1978 season. This was so long ago that it was also the season in which Arizona and Arizona State made the dramatic move from the Western Athletic Conference to what became the Pac-10.

One complaint offered when the split occurred was found in a John Underwood piece written for Sports Illustrated:

"Subdivision will be the death of the I-AA schools. Reclassification will make them second-class citizens and they will suffer accordingly in recruiting and support."

In actuality, second-class citizenry would have been an upgrade for the teams shipped off to I-AA, when you consider that — then and now — college football always has been played in several tiers:

The haves, the once-in-a-whiles, the have-nots and the why-bothers?

As a gesture toward the idea "football players have feelings too," the NCAA tried to boost the I-AAs by changing the titles in 2006 to Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).

Which has turned out to mean, the outfits in the big division that manage to win half of their games (and sometimes not even that) get to hang out with old white guys in matching blazers at a luncheon and receive bowl-game gift bags in exotic locations such as Shreveport, La., where they will play in front of a few thousand cold, wet spectators that have a tendency to leave early, and also …

Twenty-four outfits in the second division with strong regular seasons getting a chance to participate in a playoff, playing at on-campus sites, before deciding it all with a championship game in a soccer stadium in Frisco, Texas.

Curiously, there's an ongoing trend of FCS schools devoted to upward mobility, willing to trade in championship hopes for some glorious day in the future perhaps playing in the Cure Bowl in Orlando, where there had to be at least 3,000 fans watching MAC champion Northern Illinois take on Coastal Carolina on Friday night.

My football attention was focused on a college game that meant something, at least regionally: North Dakota State playing host to James Madison, a notable FCS playoff rival going back a decade.

NDSU survived again, winning 20-14 to put its record vs. the Dukes at 4-1.

The twist was that, with this loss, James Madison was done with FCS. The Dukes are headed to FBS and the Sun Belt Conference (home of Coastal Carolina, proud champs of the Cure Bowl).

James Madison was the 2016 FCS champion. Sam Houston State was the winner last May in a shortened, pandemic-delayed spring season.

Those are the only FCS titles going back to 2011 that have not been won by NDSU. Eight out of 10, and they will be going for No. 9 against Montana State on Jan. 8 in Frisco.

Sam Houston is also leaving FCS in 2023, heading for a reconstructed, slapped-together Conference USA. Jacksonville (Ala.) State is also headed there.

Since NDSU started this dynasty in 2011, FCS will have lost prominent programs such as Appalachian State, Charlotte, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Liberty and Old Dominion, and now James Madison, Sam Houston and Jacksonville State.

Roughly 125 schools will remain, but the Ivy League doesn't participate, the two historically Black leagues have a separate bowl game, St. Thomas and 10 other Pioneer League teams don't offer football scholarships and a couple of Eastern leagues are historically feeble.

The top half of the Missouri Valley Football Conference is generally more challenging for NDSU than the first couple of rounds of the FCS playoffs.

The Fargo fan base has gotten bored. There was a solid crowd for James Madison on Friday night, but the regular-season crowds have gotten smaller and the first two playoff rounds had some 7,500 empty seats in a dome holding 19,000.

There's speculation the Bison are contemplating a move to FBS — perhaps the Mountain West, which would fit for football, but also ruin the athletic budget in order to send the remainder of the NDSU teams throughout the Western United States for conference play.

Plus, the ongoing decline of the subdivision might be taking the pizzazz out of FCS domination, but try to imagine how exciting it would be to see your Bison earning, say, a third trip in five years to the Famous Potato Bowl in Boise, Idaho.

Bad bowls or titles? That is the dilemma.