Football scheduling is like one big jigsaw puzzle, fitting a piece from one program into the various one-weekend openings of another. But the riddle doesn't stop there.
Within that problem is a second to be solved as game kickoff times, in an era ruled by televised sporting events, must fit the larger whole uncontrolled by the individual. Institutions' broadcast partners decide how a scheduled game in Montana and, say, Southern California work together on the same day's TV slate.
It's why you'll see those unique kickoff times like 1:35 p.m. Or the occasional 7 p.m.
The University of Montana announced last week – via its athletics Twitter account – that its football season opener Sept. 3 would be played under the lights at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Game time was set for 7 p.m. when the Griz will entertain visiting Saint Francis.
"On a Saturday in the fall, there's hundreds of games around the country that are being broadcast," said Eric Taber, UM's assistant sports information director, "so to squeeze a Montana game in there takes a little bit of finessing."
Montana's broadcast rights holder, Learfield Sports, works with the broadcaster and athletic department to handle game-time scheduling of nonconference games, Taber said. That's dates like the one against Saint Francis. Conference game timing is through a cooperative between the league, athletic department and broadcaster -- in the Big Sky Conference's case ROOT Sports.
UM has also confirmed start times for Sept. 10 at Northern Iowa (3 p.m.); Sept. 24 at Cal Poly (1 p.m.); Oct. 1's homecoming game against Southern Utah (2:30 p.m.); Oct. 8 vs. Mississippi Valley State (2:30 p.m.); Oct. 15 vs. Sacramento State (2:30 p.m.); and Oct. 22 at Northern Arizona (5 p.m.). All are listed as Mountain Time.
The Saint Francis date is the latest in a recent trend of early season night games in Missoula dating back to the installation of permanent lighting fixtures at the on-campus stadium in April 2012. The Griz have scheduled night games within the first month of the season four years is a row.
Only 2012 stands out among that group with only afternoon starts.
Perhaps because of their rarity, along with the big-game atmosphere created by the evening setting, night games do well to invigorate the fan base, Taber added.
"It's an awesome late summer evening in Missoula, what can be better than going and watching a football game?" he said. "I think that's why we try and do one every year. Fans want that."
Frequently one is all that can be managed outside of deep FCS playoff runs though. Regularly scheduled network programming in the evening tends to win out, so football dominates the mid-day Saturday slate.
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Schedules can be massaged into place a little easier perhaps when the television provider is local. Cowles Montana Media, the local ABC/FOX affiliate that beams into homes around the state, will carry the Saint Francis game along with many other contests later in the season.
ROOT Sports, the network that for the fifth season this fall will broadcast 10 weeks of Big Sky games through a partnership between the league and DirecTV Sports Networks, will carry four other UM games.
Montana has a short but fruitful history playing after dusk in its home stadium. Including games deep into fall with late afternoon kickoffs, the type that ended after dark, the Griz have posted a 7-2 record under the lights.
Last year's hiccup against Cal Poly is the most recent night game. High off a season-opening defeat of defending (and eventual) FCS national champion North Dakota State, Montana fell 20-19 on a last-second field goal on a rainy night at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
That was the first home loss with the lights on in close to a decade though. Massachusetts got the best of the Griz in a narrow FCS semifinal playoff encounter in December 2009, back when broadcaster ESPN would bring in its temporary lights if necessary for the postseason.
In between the defeats were five victories, including three in postseason play.
Among them was a memorable semifinal defeat of Appalachian State in the snow in 2009, the first of two games in Missoula in four years under the lights between the schools, and a quarterfinal blowout of Northern Iowa in 2011.
Six of the now 10 total evening or night games at Wa-Griz have come since the permanent lights were installed about four years ago.
"Times have changed. Lights have allowed us to get bigger and better broadcasts and into more TVs around the country," Taber said.
The 2014 season saw three, though a win over South Dakota in September was the only true night game. A regular-season finale against Montana State, the 114th annual Brawl of the Wild, kicked off at 3 p.m. with the next week's first-round playoff contest against San Diego getting underway just after 2 p.m. Montana won both outings.
Though UM's season schedule has long been complete, its final four dates remain without a confirmed starting time. That should be rectified in the coming weeks, Taber said.