Montana football fans had better start studying if they want to know much about the Grizzlies' future nonconference opponents. The Griz finalized their 2016 schedule with another bout against a first-time foe.
Montana has added Mississippi Valley State to the calendar this fall, a sixth home game that puts the final touches on an 11-game schedule. It will be the first meeting between the FCS programs and only UM's second ever against the Southwestern Athletic Conference, which is comprised of historically black universities.
The Montana athletic department also announced a future home-and-home series with Missouri Valley Football Conference squad Missouri State for 2020 and 2021. The Griz and Bears have never faced one another.
MVSU will make a one-time trip to Missoula and Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Oct. 8 of this coming fall, UM's first matchup with a SWAC team since beating Jackson State at Wa-Griz in the first round of the FCS playoffs in 1989.
The SWAC has not participated in the FCS playoffs since 1997, instead holding its own conference championship game.
With the expansion of the Big Sky Conference creating an insufficiency of FCS programs in the western United States, Montana has had to reach farther and farther away to fill its nonconference slate, said Ryan Martin, UM assistant athletic director in charge of business operations and football scheduling.
"But it's kind of cool, too. It forces you to mix it up and play teams you've never played before," Martin said. "You don't have just Cal Poly coming in and playing every year."
Montana's 2016 nonconference slate opens on Sept. 3 with Northeast Conference team Saint Francis (Pennsylvania), another program new to the Griz. The 2017 and '18 schedules feature two more first-time meetings in home games against Valparaiso (Indiana) and Drake (Iowa), both of the non-scholarship Pioneer League.
Montana's full nonconference slate for 2016 also includes a trip to MVFC power Northern Iowa on Sept. 10 at Cedar Falls, Iowa, before an early-season bye on Sept. 17.
Mississippi Valley State, a university located in Leflore County just outside the town of Itta Bena in northwest Mississippi, may be most notable to football fans for producing NFL legends Jerry Rice and the late David "Deacon" Jones, the player who is credited with coining the phrase "sacking the quarterback."
The Delta Devils were 1-8 in league games last season, 1-10 overall, and 2-9 the prior two years.
The Griz will bring in MVSU to fill a one-time hole in its schedule, meaning UM is not responsible for a return trip to Mississippi to complete a home-and-home series. That of course comes with a price tag.
And a considerable one.
Where teams may swap $50,000 for travel years during a home-and-home agreement – such is the case with Northern Iowa, which will visit Missoula for UM's half of the series in 2018 – a one-time "guarantee" game is far more expensive. For an FCS opponent, it can cost as much as $300,000 depending on the circumstance.
The Missoulian reported last August that the guarantee for Saint Francis was about $200,000. Martin said Mississippi Valley State will cost more than that, but declined to specify an exact amount to avoid being locked in on a number in future negotiations.
That's a load of dough for sure, but it's more important to pay a one-time chunk and secure the Griz hosting duties for a sixth game in Missoula. Montana makes the money back – and then some – during home game days.
Montana's 2016 opening was expected to be a cheaper Division II program until the Delta Devils entered the picture late. Even though more expensive, a Division I squad is the preferable option, Martin said. D-II victories aren't counted toward the soft requirement of seven wins in a season that help a team reach the FCS playoffs.
"In a perfect world you'll always have 11 Division I games," Martin said. "... As of now we don't have one (D-II) on the schedule for the future."
Scheduling a D-II program can be up to $200,000 cheaper, typically between $50,000-75,000 since most teams at the lower level travel by bus rather than plane.
UM's last visit from a D-II squad was Central Washington in 2014.
Fans peeking way into the future can look forward to Montana's trip to Missouri State in Springfield, Missouri, in 2020. That game is penciled in for Sept. 20, with Missouri State returning the trip on Sept. 18, 2021.
Martin said no travel guarantees will be exchanged for those matchups.
The Griz still have one opening in each 2017 and 2018 with the athletic department hoping to find a home-and-home series to plug in, the Griz hosting in 2017 and hitting the road to complete the contract the following season.
Another Missouri Valley squad like Missouri State would be ideal, Martin said.
"As many Missouri Valley teams as we can sign up, I'm in," he said of the conference that has become widely regarded as tops in the FCS, thanks in part to the rise of five-time national champion North Dakota State.
The Griz have payday trips to Oregon (2019) and Washington (2017, 2021) on the future schedule as well with a few pending contracts with FCS programs that are not finalized.
Montana has a verbal agreement with a traditional Ohio Valley Conference power for a home-and-home series that would send Montana east in 2020, returning a trip the program would make to Missoula from 2019. The Griz also have verbally agreed with a Pioneer school to fill a date in 2020 with a guarantee game similar to that of MVSU.