As the WAC is set to add two football schools to their depleted ranks, the one school they were really hoping to grab has decided to stay put.
In a release issued by the school, Montana announced that they will stay in the Big Sky Conference and not make the jump from Div. 1-AA* to Div. 1 -A” at any point in the foreseeable future. The Grizzlies have been in the midst of a feasibility study in an effort to gauge what it would take to move up a level in football, and were expected to make a decision in the next few weeks.
An invitation from the WAC was reportedly Montana’s for the taking, but the school has apparently decided the status quo is the proper course for its very successful football program at this point in time.
“It was a complex issue with many pros and cons,” said UM president Royce Engstrom. “In the end, the better course is to stay with the conference we helped establish in 1963 and to continue building on its solid foundation. …
“At this time, FCS football presents the best overall fit for the University, it provides our student-athletes and fans with a great experience, and it is consistent with the strategic direction of the University.”
Engstrom said in the statement on the school’s official website that there were three principles that guided his decision.
First, he wanted to maintain the cross-state rivalry between UM and Montana State University-Bozeman, which he regards as essential to the state’s cultural fabric. The two institutions played their first college football rivalry game in 1897. Now nicknamed the Brawl of the Wild, it’s the fourth-oldest active rivalry in the FCS and the oldest west of the Mississippi.
Second, he wanted UM to compete with more mission-similar institutions. He said the recent addition of the University of North Dakota strengthened the Big Sky Conference in that regard.
Finally, he wanted to ensure that UM athletic teams can compete successfully and maintain the prestige and integrity the program has demonstrated over the years.
The Grizzlies have been to the playoffs — Playoffs? What are these college football playoffs they speak of? — a Div. 1-AA-record 17 straight seasons, and would certainly have been a quality addition to a conference in desperate need of such additions.
And, speaking of desperate additions, it was announced Thursday that Texas State and the University of Texas at San Antonio will be the seventh and eighth football members of the WAC, which will become the latest in a long line of conferences to reshape themselves over the past century-plus.
(Tip O’ the Cap: Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times)
(Writer’s note: I refuse to refer to the divisions of football by the names currently attached to them by the NCAA. To borrow a line from one of the most underrated movies of all-time, “his momma called him 1-A/1-AA, I’ma call him 1-A/1-AA.” Thank you, and have a nice day.)