With an assist from the folks at Western Illinois, Montana has finalized a pair of future football games against South Dakota.
The Griz will head to Vermillion, South Dakota to open the 2019 season against the Coyotes on Aug. 31 of that year, a date on which the Griz had expected to be even farther east in Macomb, Illinois.
With Liberty opting out of a home-and-home contract with UM and leaving open dates in the Grizzlies' schedule for 2018 and '19, Montana and Western Illinois struck up a deal. The teams' existing 2019 game could be moved up a year to Sept. 15, 2018 -- a road Saturday once reserved for Liberty -- to allow Montana more time to find another opponent in 2019.
Well, the newly created opening fit perfectly into South Dakota's schedule.
"It's crazy how easy and straight forward this one was, which was really nice," said Montana Assistant Athletic Director Ryan Martin, who handles football scheduling.
The Missouri Valley Football Conference Coyotes were 4-7 under first-year head coach Bob Nielson in 2016.
Montana and Liberty agreed to their home-and-home series in February, just days before the Flames announced an intention to jump to the Football Bowl Subdivision starting in 2018. In March, Liberty opted out of the contract.
The back half of the home-and-home with South Dakota comes way down the line in 2022, though an exact date has yet to be announced. The Coyotes are still searching for an FBS "money" game for that season. The Griz will host USD on either Sept. 3 or Sept. 10 in 2022.
Per the terms of the contract, the teams are required to trade no money for travel expenses in either season.
Montana is 12-6 all-time against the Coyotes, dating back to the first meeting between the two schools in 1915, a 10-7 loss for the Griz in Vermillion.
The Griz are just 3-5 on the road in the series, but boast a perfect 7-0 record against South Dakota at home. The teams last met in Missoula in 2014, a 28-20 victory for UM against former head coach Joe Glenn, who led Montana to the 2011 national championship and coached the Coyotes that day.
Montana is 2-1 against USD in neutral locations, playing the Coyotes three times in Billings in 1949, 1965 and 1967.
The 2018 Griz football schedule is now complete -- for a second time -- though there remains one opening apiece in 2019 and '20.
After opening at USD in 2019, the Griz host North Alabama on Sept. 7 before traveling to play FBS Oregon on the 14th. Martin said UM is still on the hunt for a game to slot in on the fourth weekend of the season on Sept. 21 because the 2019 schedule presents the opportunity for four nonconference games.
Every few years the calendar falls just so that there is an extra Saturday between Labor Day and Thanksgiving. On years like that, such as 2019 and most recently in 2013, teams are allowed to schedule a 12th regular season game where normally only 11 are permitted.
Martin said he does not expect filling the '19 vacancy to come as simply as adding South Dakota's home-and-home situation.
"It's a tough one because we need a home game there and then we need a home game the next season to start off, and then we don't have another open date until 2022," Martin said. "It's unlikely we'll get a home-and-home there that starts at our place in 2019 and ends in 2020."
Instead expect another single entry home game with the Griz paying a small sum to a program to come to Missoula in 2019. That sum varies depending on the circumstances. For Division I FCS programs in 2016, it ranged from about $200,000 (Saint Francis) to $300,000 (Mississippi Valley State).
The Griz are committed to maintaining an all D-I schedule, Martin affirmed. They have not played a Division II team since 2014 (Central Washington) and have none on the schedule out to 2022 at this time.