Sanford Health doctors ready for ESPN’s GameDay

Friendly rivalry on display as both SDSU and NDSU have Sanford team physicians

Two trainers kneel next to a seated SDSU football player on the field with a referee in the background.
Two trainers kneel next to a seated SDSU football player on the field with a referee in the background.

During a week that has included the attention and accompanying mayhem of an ESPN College GameDay visit, Dr. Bruce Piatt will look across the football field at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium on Saturday and see Sanford Health colleague and friend Dr. Chad Kurtenbach.

Piatt is North Dakota State’s longtime team doctor. Kurtenbach serves in the same capacity for South Dakota State. Together, they’re Sanford Health doctors who are part of a family that serves as medical support at both schools. That includes every practice and every game and every attempt to go home with the Dakota Marker.

The Marker is the stone rivalry trophy top-ranked and undefeated NDSU and third-ranked SDSU will be playing for beginning at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. ESPN’s GameDay is a weekly national celebration of college football viewed by more than two million people.

The show will start at 8 a.m. central time and go until 11 a.m. In between, the program squeezes in a lot of what Saturdays in this sport are all about.

Learn more: Sanford Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

The combination of the two promises an eventful day in Brookings. And regardless of who wins, it’s far from coincidental that what are essentially two portions of one sports medicine team are going to be working both sides in a contest that has garnered national attention.

“That’s why I’m part of this,” said Piatt, a team physician at NDSU for 23 years. “Years ago, I saw the commitment Sanford has to orthopedics and sports medicine. It’s no surprise, then, that we’re so involved this week. It gives us some comfort knowing there is a standard of care that is being upheld on the opposite sidelines.”

Sanford Health bonds

In this case it’s a bond that goes well beyond winning and losing. That’s not to say the final score will be ignored entirely, however. Especially this week with GameDay setting up on SDSU’s campus.

“We usually have a standing wager,” Kurtenbach said. “We usually have to wear the opposing school’s colors for a day, but it might be time to get our own traveling trophy.”

On the other side up in Fargo, earlier this week Piatt was waiting to hear from Kurtenbach. It is part of the routine between the two Sanford Health doctors preceding the Bison-Jackrabbit game.

Of course, with ESPN’s presence, the week is far from routine.

“I talk with Chad all the time,” Piatt said Tuesday. “I’m kind of surprised he hasn’t been texting me. Usually he has something to say by this point. It’s a very friendly rivalry for us. They’ve had their moments where they got us and we’ve had our moments where we’ve beaten them.”

It will be spiced considerably by Saturday morning national television coverage arriving from SDSU with GameDay hosts talking about the day’s biggest games and stories. That crew, which includes Rece Davis, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, David Pollack, Maria Taylor and Desmond Howard, will also dissect the Bison-Jacks game.

It serves as a reminder that big things happen this time of year in this sport all over the country, not just at major colleges.

Marquee matchup

In this case, SDSU and NDSU are playing what is undoubtedly the biggest regular-season FCS game of the year. The 19,340-capacity Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium is sold out. And in addition to sharing a spot at the top of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, the schools share a history of games against the other that began in 1903.

No, Sanford Health doctors were not there for that first one. The collaboration between the two medical teams does have a history, however.

“There is a lot of mutual respect for the entire football program, including the sports medicine staff,” Kurtenbach said. “I know their physicians very well and a lot of their athletic trainers. It’s a pretty cool experience. I’ve watched the NDSU football program over the years, and to be honest, marveled at some of their success. Yes, we have our friendly banter and give each other a hard time once in a while, but ultimately, it’s nice to see local schools do well and it’s nice to see your colleagues do well. Ultimately NDSU’s success has led to a lot of our success.”

As the Bison team physician for more than two decades, Piatt has been part of an astounding number of big games. Seven national FCS titles at NDSU in eight years tend to push along that total on a yearly basis. While Piatt would laugh at the mention of it, it’s a virtual lock he’s the current national leader in victories among practicing physicians patrolling the sidelines.

A part of life

“Whether we win or lose, it’s been a tremendous part of my life,” Piatt said. “It’s like a second family for me with the people I’ve gotten to know. And they haven’t just taken me in, they’ve taken my family in. I have three children and two of them will be at the game. That probably wouldn’t be the case without it being a rivalry game and ESPN being there. My point is, NDSU makes it easy for my family to be a part of this. That’s the biggest thing I love about it. My family loves it as much as I do.”

Like Piatt, Kurtenbach grew up with a love of sports. Similarly, his life as a Sanford Health orthopedic surgeon wouldn’t be the same without college football.

“I definitely get consumed with the rivalry and what it means to our fan base and our football program,” Kurtenbach said. “I look forward to the excitement as game day approaches. This is a unique opportunity for Brookings and the state of South Dakota. We already have an exciting rivalry game coming up and now with GameDay being here, we’re taking that to a national level.”

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