Thursday, June 10, 2010

Should Big Sky Teams move up?

Huge news for college football, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. Colorado is headed to the Pac-10. Now sit back and watch the Big 12 crumble to nothing. If more teams follow, the Pac-10 could look completely different in a blink of the eye. Also considering USC was just slapped with a two-year postseason ban, things are getting really juicy.

Now lets step back and take a look at how this affects more local teams, namely the Big Sky and the Montana schools. Talk of moving up to FBS is nothing new for Montana and Montana State, however is it the right move if this Big 12 vacuum clears some space in the smaller conferences?

Having seen a program fall flat when they moved up first hand, let me be the first to say that the Montana schools don't want to become the next Idaho. They also shouldn't expect to have Boise State-like success if they move up. I recently read this very well-written article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle by Will Holden explaining the challenges of the transition from FCS and FBS. I want to show you a few snippets and explain why it would be a bad idea for the Montana schools to move up.


First, Idaho AD Ron Spear made a good point about population bases. Boise State was in the middle of one of the largest population centers in the Northwest. Idaho was not. Montana and Montana State are in great cities but they're not nearly as big as a Boise State. You need big city money to be able to fund the continued growth of a Div. I program. While many colleges are in smaller towns they do have a large city in the state to draw their corporate sponsorships and season ticket bases. Where would UM and MSU go for that?

"Your funding is so important to your program's success, and your funding model is dependent upon your demographics," Spear said. "Boise State can generate a lot of its own revenue because of its population base. We can't do that at Idaho."

According to the 2008 Census, the population in the Boise area is estimated at nearly 600,000, roughly two-thirds the entire population of Montana.

"Sometimes we look here and say there's not a lot of professional athletic competition for the dollar and compare ourselves to Boise in that sense," O'Day said. "But the reality is that there is a much stronger population base in Boise.

"Even though we know that 50 percent of our season ticket holders don't reside in Missoula County, if you don't continue to win, do those people from Sidney and Glendive continue to make that trip back six to nine times a year? You just don't know."

While I would say that Montana and MSU are better examples of programs ready to make the jump than an Idaho (The Kibbie Dome is a joke, sorry), they would still need to vastly improve their stadiums to reach even WAC attendance standards. And that's not just putting more seats in the stadiums, you also have to upgrade the infrastructure of the facilities to better accommodate the supposed larger crowds and attract Div. I athletes.

And can you get bigger crowds? I'm not in anyway questioning the loyalty of Griz or MSU fans. What they do every Saturday is amazing, but keep in mind if they want to be the creme of the crop in even these lower tier FBS conferences, they'd have to draw thousands of MORE fans. And this is with the Griz and Bobcats not competing for a national championship since smaller FBS schools just get screwed out of the whole BCS equation.

Check this out quote and explanation from Big Sky Conference Commissioner Doug Fullerton ...

"Fans will always lead the conversations because they don't have to balance the budgets," Fullerton said. "If your team is losing bad or it's snowing, they don't have to show up. They don't have to understand coaches' salaries; they don't have to understand how television sets affect the equation."

And what would those fans think if their teams are no longer playing for conference championships each year? What would they think if their rosters where no longer stocked with athletes from Montana?

This upcoming season, MSU will have 43 Montana natives on its team; UM will have 36. In the entire FBS last season, there are only two players from Montana: Kalispell's Brock Osweiler at Arizona State and Bozeman's Jay Wisner at Auburn. Matt Miller, of Helena, received a scholarship this spring to play in the FBS - at Boise State.

"If (UM) were 5-6 or 6-5 every year, the discussions might be different," O'Day said. "But we've been in the championship game seven times since 1995, and having done that with a lot of Montana players means one heck of a lot to us."

And success at one level doesn't guarantee it at the next. Just ask a fan from Idaho.

And the Montana schools could weather those bad years and work up to compete for a conference championship, but keep in mind they wont be chasing any national championships anytime soon. Thank the lack of a playoff system for that.

The move would take UM and MSU from nationally-know programs to basically a side note in college football. And how much will the fan base support kids from California and Texas? Don't underestimate the lack of home-cooking, or Montana's ability to draw these out-of-state athletes to their programs. Ask WSU how hard it is to recruit to Pullman.

This isn't a dig to those schools, but the lower-tier of the FBS is not a very desirable position. It stinks, and what would it do to the school's other programs if they have to travel further in WAC conference schedules and will they be as competitive as they have been in the past. Again, look at the full picture, not just a snapshot of the program.


  1. Finally... you make some sense.

    There are currently 2 Montana athletes on FBS rosters in the NCAA. Just 2.

    Montana would need to add better facilities and more scholarships, and more women's teams.

    MSU has even more work to do.

    The numbers don't add up for these teams to move up.

    Here is another article from Craig Haley of Sports Network discussing these types of arguments AGAINST moving from FCS to FBS

  2. Coming from a Pac 10 fan... bah.. That's all I have to say... Just quit messing with stuff, if it ain't broke, don't fix it!