Angst is how Kent Haslam described it. Not the teenage kind, but rather that feeling of unfocused anxiety and trepidation that comes with not particularly good news.

It stirred inside Montana's athletic director when he read the press release, that just two days before his Grizzly football team was to host North Dakota State in one of the most anticipated season openers in program history, the Bison were making an even bigger splash.

NDSU athletics planned to add to its permissible scholarships for 2016, just the second Football Championship Subdivision institution covering "full cost of attendance." Haslam knew the conversations and obstacles his department would face immediately; it left a pit in his stomach.

"And it was a pit of about $600,000," Haslam said.

North Dakota State's announcement on Aug. 27 toppled a series of dominoes in the FCS world as regional rivals reacted by following the Bison's lead. Just days later was North Dakota's own proclamation as the issue entered the Big Sky Conference. Then came South Dakota.

And though the addition of scholarship money promises to wobble the balance of power in recruiting -- by how much is unknown -- Haslam said Montana is standing firm.

At least for now.

As was the department's stance back in April when Liberty became the first university outside the so-called Power 5 conferences to offer full cost, UM maintains that it will not add to its scholarships in the imminent future to cover full cost of attendance.

"If we had to do it right now within our budget, no, we couldn't," Haslam said this week. "We don't have $600, $700 grand of extra money every year.

"... But there's a lot of conversations going on and what are we gonna do? You can't sit around and pretend it's not happening."

Montana State AD Peter Fields confirmed to the Missoulian that his institution is not ready for such a move either, and "the decision when and if we do will be made not in a vacuum."


In January the NCAA voted to allow universities to supplement their scholarships to student-athletes with stipends that would expand outside expenses traditionally covered like tuition, room and board and books.

The autonomous legislation, passed by a 79-1 vote, was a welcome move to the big dogs of college athletics. Schools in the Power 5 -- the Pac-12, Big 10, Big 12, Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences -- updated their budgets for the 2015-16 school year.

The full cost of attendance -- taking into account transportation, off-campus meals and further school supplies -- would be an added $2,000 to $4,000 per full athletic scholarship, depending on the school.

At Montana, the number is on the high end of that range. Added cost for in-state students is $3,228 while out-of-state students are estimated to require $3,928 because of heightened transportation expenses.

Across Montana's 178.1 total scholarships, that comes out to between $574,906.80 and $699,576.80 per year, on par with what other institutions face (Liberty, as a private school, is not required to release such information). Both extremes -- assuming all student-athletes are either in-state or out-of-state residents -- are unlikely with UM's real total falling somewhere in the middle.

The true cost of attendance is set by each school's respective financial aid offices.

At Montana State, the added budget weight would fall a little lower with MSU's full cost estimate at just $3,390 for out-of-state students. Considering the school's 165 or so scholarships -- the Bobcats have less because they do not field a softball program like UM -- that's still as much as $550,000.

Neither school has that kind of house money to play with, needing such a chunk on an annual basis.

"I feel strongly that it's got to be done in a fiscally responsible way," said Haslam, whose department handed out $4.3 million in athletic scholarships this year. "Two years down the road you wonder, 'Man, how am I gonna make this car payment?' I don't want to do that."


For some programs time wasn't an option. Their hands were forced.

Once North Dakota State took the step, its in-state rival couldn't stand by and become a second-tier athletic department. On Sept. 2, the third FCS domino fell.

"I certainly didn't anticipate it moving quite this fast," North Dakota AD Brian Faison said. "We've always felt that down the road it could be a possibility, but we need to be cognizant of our regional opposition here."

UND began offering full cost, or full amended grant-in-aid as the university refers to it, for it's renowned men's and women's hockey programs this year to keep pace with other national powers. Those 18 scholarships apiece are about one-fifth of NoDak's total aid and upping the offers to all the school's scholarships comes with an estimated $700,000 price tag.

NoDak wasn't the only one left reacting. Just two days later South Dakota added its name to the list.

Other regional powers like South Dakota State, which is working its books now to see if the move is feasible, and Northern Iowa, which already offers full cost for men's and women's basketball and volleyball, could be the next to announce.

Big Sky Conference Deputy Commissioner Ron Loghry said schools are free to make the decision on their own rather than a conference deciding for them -- though some leagues have clung together. The Horizon League offers full cost for men's basketball and an equivalent number of women's scholarships in recognition of Title IX.

The decision is not one that conferences, the Big Sky included, feel comfortable pushing on their institutions.

"In fact across the nation conferences are hands-off," Loghry said. "We have never instituted a policy for or against (full cost of attendance scholarships) and we won't."


Because the four Subdivision schools won't begin play with full cost scholarships on board until next fall, the full effect on the balance of power is unclear. But Loghry said he knows the impact has already been felt in Utah, where the Big Sky headquarters is located, in the recruiting wars between FCS and nearby higher Football Bowl Subdivision teams like BYU and Utah.

Perhaps schools like Montana, with its football palace in Washington-Grizzly Stadium, recently opened Grizzly Student-Athlete Academic Center and upcoming $14 million Grizzly Champions Center project, won't feel much difference at all.

"We've got a lot of things that these other schools don't have and I've never been one to give excuses when we don't have something somebody else has," Montana first-year head football coach Bob Stitt said. "I've been winning games a long time with less."

Stitt coached the past 15 years at NCAA Division II Colorado School of Mines, a school with stout academic guidelines and rather unassuming facilities.

Haslam agreed with his coach. Right now Montana's fundraising emphasis is elsewhere.

"I've said from the very beginning, strategically what we want to focus on is improving our facilities," he said.

And though the full cost issue has dipped a toe in the Big Sky thanks to UND, the Green and White's move is far from creating tidal waves.

"In large part we don't recruit the same athletes so I don't know that there's necessarily as much of a direct impact on those schools," said Faison, whose NoDak programs fight for recruits in the Midwest in the shadow of the Big 10.

But how long will that last?


The topic has come up at each Big Sky school, some institutes playing down their discussions with relative secrecy.

Sure Weber State has talked about it, Loghry confirmed. Eastern Washington too, though Eagles' AD Bill Chaves declined to comment for this story, a department official saying only that "Eastern is monitoring the landscape and hasn't made any decision yet."

"Boy the sands shift so fast," added Haslam, laying out Montana's options for a hypothetical future that features full cost of attendance in Missoula.

It requires increasing revenue or decreasing expenses, the backbone of sustainable business.

Some expenses will never drop; things like travel, insurance and coaches' salaries swell every year. Cuts could do the trick, but Haslam said his department does as much trimming as possible on a yearly basis anyway. And dropping varsity sports isn't the answer, Montana having just added softball as its 15th last year (14 are needed to remain at Division I).

Montana would need to up its revenue then, increasing money earned from student fees, donations, multimedia rights, institutional support or ticket sales. Some of those are more feasible than others, Haslam said.

"What I get really nervous about is we're already charging an extremely high amount for tickets," he said. "We ask a lot of our ticket base."

Single-game football tickets range from $36 to $61 this season. Wa-Griz seats 25,217.

Private fundraising will likely have to come to the rescue, as it is at places like NDSU and UND.

And UM and the Grizzly Scholarship Association are likely already working toward that goal. You never know when the next domino, this one much closer to home, might drop.

"Montana or Montana State, if one of us were to jump in the fray, the other is probably 24 hours behind," MSU's Fields said. "If that."

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