Update at 10:12 a.m. on Friday August 7th, 2020: According to a note shared with alumni from UM Athletic Director Kent Haslam, the Fall football season has been cancelled. See Haslam's full note at the bottom of this post.

Original Post

Let's be honest. We all like to watch the Cats and the Griz play, but this time, both coaches got "played." And now the Big Sky Conference is reportedly canceling the Fall college football season altogether.

NBC Montana: The Big Sky Conference is canceling its football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to multiple sources close to the decision.

Jon Stepanek with KTVQ-TV notes that multiple sources, including the Denver Post, reporting that the Big Sky Conference season will be canceled. Stepanek added:

Early reports have not been confirmed by Big Sky Conference presidents and athletics directors, who met Thursday to discuss holding the fall sports season during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A month ago, I remember seeing this story where the head football coaches for The University of Montana Grizzlies and the Montana State University Bobcats were both coaxed into taking part in a press stunt for liberal Gov. Steve Bullock (Bullock is running for the US Senate this year). It's hard to fault the coaches for having to take part in something like this. The governor, after all, controls the purse strings for the state's university system. He also appoints members of the Board of Regents, which oversees both UM and MSU.

The coaches both took part in a "Mask Up" Montana press event, encouraging Montanans to wear masks. Both MSU football coach Jeff Choate and liberal Gov. Steve Bullock implied that widespread mask-wearing was how we were going to be able to save football. As MTN News reported at the time:

COACH CHOATE: "It doesn’t matter if you wear the blue and gold or you wear the maroon and silver, this is an issue we all need to get behind. I know our boys and our fans, we want to get out to Bobcat Stadium, and I know coach Hauck and his team feel the same way."

BULLOCK: "Let’s make it about keeping our businesses open -- making sure we can watch football, like we all enjoy."

Since that time, Bullock issued a statewide mask directive, and both college hometowns of Missoula and Bozeman also issued their own even more restrictive mask orders. When this news story came out, I recall saying at the time,  "That's it, your season is over. You watch, they'll tell you that wearing masks is how we will keep businesses open, it's how we will save football. And then you watch as football gets canceled."

They told us more testing was how we were going to be able to stay open. Then they used more testing to justify more restrictions and mandates. Then they told us wearing masks is how we would keep businesses open and save football. I said it from day one: mask mandates are designed to scare people into further shutdowns and to continue the chaos and divisiveness leading up to election day. They're not about keeping things open. Encouraging masks is one thing, mandating is quite another.

By the way, I don't fault the coaches here. I have respect for both of them. I think they both truly were trying to save football for their kids and for their state. Bullock simply used them for his own political gain, and football is likely canceled anyway. (***Note: Several games, including the MSU Bobcat season opener were already canceled prior to these reports.)

Let's hope there is still time for the Big Sky Conference to reverse this decision. Enough with the political games. We want to watch a real game.

How big of an economic impact will this be for college towns like Missoula? According to The Missoulian:

2017 study by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at UM found that out-of-town visitors spend about $2.53 million, excluding airfare, in Missoula County for each home football contest. Grizzly athletics produce 1,384 permanent jobs in a variety of industries, $120.8 million in gross annual sales for area businesses and $52.8 million in wages and benefits.

Nearly 170,000 people attended Griz football games in 2015, with 90,0000 of those traveling from outside of Missoula.

 

FULL NOTE FROM UM ATHLETIC DIRECTOR KENT HASLAM SENT OUT FRIDAY AUGUST 7, 2020:

The Big Sky Conference will announce later this morning the conference Presidents Council voted to cancel the 2020 conference football season, with a plan to play an 8-game conference season in the spring. There is hope the FCS Championship will also move to the spring, but that is still to be determined.

However, the presidents also voted to hold off on canceling/postponing the remaining fall sports of cross country, volleyball, and soccer. The reasoning is these sports have already had their season delayed to September 18, which buys us time, and a decision on their fall championships must be made by August 21. There is still a potential these seasons will be moved, but we focus on doing what we can to preserve their fall seasons.

There were a variety of reasons behind acting on football right now. Currently, per local health guidelines, very few Big Sky Conference schools could host a football game. Plus, the majority have no plans to start practices soon. Also, the NCAA guidelines for return to play regarding testing are now mandatory. Most felt like there was not a way to abide by those requirements and safely return to competition.

So…what does this mean?

  • The Conference will now start to look at what a potential football season in the spring would look like. Start date, practice schedules, etc. will all be worked through and we will plan accordingly.
  • We monitor the status of the championships for the other fall sports and make decisions we as a conference feel are appropriate.
  • We now shift our focus to make sure we are able to keep the Washington-Grizzly Champions Center and other practice facilities open and operating by abiding by the return to practice requirements for testing, masking, etc. as laid out recently by the NCAA.
  • We proactively communicate with our season ticket holders and all of our supporters to keep them engaged and ask for their help as we bridge a financial gap.

While this decision brings some closure…it also opens many more questions. We will work through all of those. I know this is a strange reality…for context…the last time the University of Montana did not play football in the fall was 1944. The season in 1918 was also canceled because of the Spanish Flu.

Thank you for your patience during this time. I truly appreciate all you do. We will get through this!

Go Griz!

Kent

 

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