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From long ago and far away, let me argue against the Griz football team moving to Division 1A, now called the Football Bowl Subdivision.

While I was at Boston University, their football program was discontinued just two years after winning the Division 1AA national football championship. BU has over 30,000 students, tons of local alums and the Boston metropolitan area to draw from. But in just two years finishing on top, an average of 271 people attended games. By 1995, losses were over $2 million annually for football. (Hockey was, and is, the big attraction and money sport at BU.)

Better example: Old Dominion University, here in the Norfolk, Virginia area, opted two years ago to move up to Division IA, or FBS. ODU's quarterback, Taylor Heinike, had just won the Walter Peyton Award as the top FCS player. ODU won the Division 1AA championship, where the Griz compete so successfully. Before “moving up,” ODU fielded undefeated or one-loss teams, just two years after resuming football. They always have sold-out attendance. But with now-senior Heinike still leading, the Monarchs finished 6-6 in the FBS this season. Most likely, they won’t even do that well after he graduates. ODU's decision to "move up" will soon be seen as a terrible mistake as enthusiasm dims and donations diminish.

Bowl teams share their big (or quite small) bowl paychecks with every team in the conference. Thus, all but a handful actually lose money by "bowling." That much-diminished bowl check must cover transportation, several days of housing and food for the band, cheerleaders, top university officials and others.

Annually, bowl or not, a high percentage of college football programs lose money.

As for fan support, morale and alumni donations, in football, it is far better to be the biggest shark in a smaller pool than one of the minnows in a shark-filled ocean where Alabama and about 15 teams chew heartily and dominate annually.

In contrast, the Griz have one of the top-winning records in all levels of college football. They have rabid fans, attract great players and are financially healthy (a rare football program indeed).

Why leave all that to revert to what we faced in the old Skyline Conference back in my day? Annually, we played two teams ranked in the top 10: Utah State (Merlin Olson and Co.), and Wyoming (under Bob Devaney, later of Nebraska fame). Our conference schools had 20,000 to 30,000 students; we had 4,800. Attendance was "spotty," and the satire cheering group, “The Cams and Dregs,” sat behind our bench in goofy costumes chanting clever, derogatory cheers. The oft-repeated refrain, “The hell with the game, let’s go to the Flame (bar)” still rings in my ears.

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Several years ago, Sports Illustrated College Edition rated the “top 10 football stadiums on a Saturday afternoon.” They of course listed Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, etc. But 10th, with by far the smallest stadium, was Montana's Washington Stadium. A year after that, I attended my first Homecoming after many years living abroad or way "back east." I was stunned to see the crowd roaring in unison with every first down, and at key points throughout the game. The place was electric, filled to the brim.

I wonder how electric Washington Stadium will be after we return to the top division. My junior year, we were 5-5, said to be the best record since the mid-1930s for Griz football. Montana had spent many years in the PAC 10, getting drubbed, rarely winning. When we moved to the Skyline Conference circa 1954, too often the drubbings continued. The fall of my freshman year, before joining the team, Montana finished 0-10. As sophomores, I think we were 1-8, beating Brigham Young University. 

We have so much we retain by staying where we are, so much to lose by swimming with the sharks.

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John J. Schulz, a former Griz quarterback (class of '62), became a combat fighter pilot, foreign correspondent, news executive, university chair and dean. His recent book, "Songs from a Distant Cockpit," is available at the University of Montana Bookstore.

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