Within days to a week, the University of Montana is expected to announce whether the Grizzlies will move to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Only a month into his presidency, President Royce Engstrom will decide whether UM will leave the Big Sky Conference, where it's been a member since 1963, and join the Western Athletic Conference.
"We've been working diligently on this and are coming close to a final decision," Engstrom said Tuesday at a meeting on campus. Within "days to a week" Engstrom said he would announce the decision.
Engstrom met Monday evening with members of the UM student athletic advisory board. And two weeks ago, UM received the draft report from consultants charged with taking a microscope to Grizzly athletics.
"At this point, the final decision hasn't been rendered but after listening to so many groups on and off the campus, I think he's ready to have this behind us," said UM athletic director Jim O'Day.
While there are many factors at play, Engstrom in recent weeks has said that one important consideration is the Grizzlies' relationship with Montana State University, which did not receive an invitation to join the WAC.
It is against WAC rules for members to play schools in conferences such as the Big Sky, but the WAC promised UM it could continue to compete against MSU if the Grizzlies decided to make the jump, O'Day said.
"The No. 1 thing on (Engstrom's) list is to continue that rivalry," he said. "It's important to the state. It's important to everybody. It's a compromise they extended to us."
The Big Sky Conference last week expanded, with the addition of North Dakota and Southern Utah. Earlier this year, UC Davis and Cal Poly announced plans for their football programs to join the Big Sky in 2012.
The University of South Dakota received an invitation to join the Big Sky, but declined, choosing to go to the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Engstrom, who worked 28 years at USD, had several discussions with administrators there about joining the Big Sky, he said.
While disappointed that South Dakota chose to go to the Missouri Valley instead of the Big Sky, Engstrom said he understands the reasoning behind the decision, which reinstates the rivalry between USD and South Dakota State University.
Regardless, Engstrom suspects that the musical chairs among universities and athletic conferences will not end soon.
"This will be a dynamic scene over the next couple years," he said.
Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.