Coaches downplay possibility of final football meeting

Updated: October 15, 2003, 8:41 PM ET

FARGO, N.D. -- The head coaches for North Dakota and North Dakota State refuse to bill this weekend's football game as the last one between the two schools, despite the fact that UND officials have yet to commit to any future games.

Saturday's game in Grand Forks will be the 110th meeting between UND and NDSU, which is the longest-running rivalry in NCAA Division II. The Sioux hold a 61-45-3 advantage in the series and have won nine of the last 12 games.

But NDSU is moving up to Division I-AA next year and UND officials are worried that its playoff chances could be hurt by playing the Bison.

"I'm a big fan of the Sioux-Bison football game and as a North Dakota native, I definitely don't want to see it end," said Dale Lennon, UND head coach. "At the same time, I want to make sure we do what's right for UND football."

Lennon said Sioux athletic officials have to consider a revamped Division II football playoff system that puts more emphasis on regional competition within the division. He said he wants to see how the playoff pairings are handled this year before signing a contract.

But NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor said UND wouldn't be hurt by playing one NCAA Division I-AA opponent because the Sioux will have four other nonconference games next year to schedule regional Division II teams.

"I think at times it doesn't hold water," he said of UND's reluctance to schedule NDSU.

"This rivalry can remain competitive for a long time," Taylor said. "You've seen several teams with 36 scholarships beat teams with 63 scholarships. UND has a great program that will remain strong enough to do that."

Lennon said he doesn't expect Saturday's game to be the final meeting.

"I think there's too much in common between the two universities," he said.

Losing the game would be disappointing, Bison head coach Craig Bohl said.

"Certainly we want to do everything we can to focus on this game, but I think it's great for the state of North Dakota," Bohl said. "A youngster in this state dreams of playing in this football game.

"I want to make sure that everyone knows from our standpoint at NDSU, we see it as a viable game and would like to see it continue," he said.

Representatives from both of the school's booster groups said the schools should continue to play. But Joan Deal, president of Team Makers, the fund-raising arm of Bison athletics, said NDSU's move to Division I-AA is bigger than one game.

"I was at the football game at Montana and that was an atmosphere that I wish everyone could have experienced," Deal said. "That was 10 UND games."

The Bison upset Montana, a Division I-AA team, last month.

Kay Lewis, who runs the Fargo-area chapter of Sioux boosters, said she doesn't want to see the rivalry end, but her group supports the stance of the UND athletic department.

"I think it has become a real hype," she said. "A lot of people are pointing at UND and saying, 'You don't want to play us.' Obviously when NDSU decided to Division I, they knew there would be schedule changes."

Both coaches said they will not use the possibility of the rivalry ending as motivation for the game.

"Our players realize that the game is played between the lines and that decision is in someone else's hands," Bohl said.

Both teams are tied for the North Central Conference lead and battling for a playoff spot, which is enough fuel to add to the rivalry, Lennon said.

"This game is too significant in itself to add anything else on top of it," Lennon said. "I think if you start adding too much spice to the game itself, it becomes a little bit overbearing," he said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index