There is a host of reasons why it doesn’t make sense for the National Collegiate Athletic Association to award the Football Championship Subdivision National Championship game to Missoula. But there are an equal number of reasons why they should give a forthcoming bid equal consideration as Chattanooga, Tenn.
Having made four trips to Tennessee for the chipper in the last eight years, I can attest that it’s a nice place to visit. The locals who know there is an FCS title game in their town are more than gracious and especially grateful when the University of Montana is one of the teams to arrive with an ample number of fans.
The problem is too few people even realize the game is being held at Finley Stadium and are in awe and often unprepared for the onslaught of people who arrive for the game. I’m always dumbstruck when someone asks me why all these people in maroon are wandering the streets of their city of half-a-million people.
While I’ve always been complimentary about the way the city steps up to host such an affair, quite frankly, I stretched the truth. The game has been held in Tennessee since 1997, long enough for the city fathers to recognize it as a national affair and no different than a bowl game, but that hasn’t happened.
There are no banners across the road, signs in the eateries, discounts to attract the faithful, challenges among businesses. There are many untapped possibilities. In Montana, there would probably be a parade. Oh, that’s right, we have one when the Grizzlies leave town.
Last year, try as I might, I couldn’t even find mementos of the game for sale anywhere, when usually there is a stand in the hotel lobby. There wasn’t even – and I suppose I could have missed it – anything on sale at the stadium. Since the Grizzlies are 56th among all D-1 institutions in the sale of collegiate merchandise, do you think somebody might have figured that out? By the way, Montana is the top FCS school in sales in fiscal year 2009 and rank higher than Gonzaga, Wyoming, Boise State and just behind Memphis.
The NCAA is just glad to have someone interested in hosting the game. The last time Chattanooga’s contract expired, the national governing body put out feelers and received little or no interest, even though the NCAA expressed interest in moving the game.
That didn’t work, so why not Missoula?
The University of Montana is accustomed to hosting large events and does an outstanding job doing so. How about the Rolling Stones? And how many times has ESPN been here for a playoff game?
Well you know the usual challenges: weather, airport accessibility, facilities outside of the stadium and lights to name just a few. None are insurmountable but the commitment must come from UM officials as well as the public at large.
It should come as no surprise that the Missoulian noted that a small survey of Missoula businesses said they would support such an endeavor financially. After all, when the Grizzlies first started appearing in the playoffs, it was a small group of business people led by Press Box Restaurant owner Gordie Fix, who guaranteed UM’s bids to host games.
And when then Associate Athletic Director Kathy Noble first sought to bring the Women’s Regional Basketball Tournament to Missoula, it was the business community who quickly supported the endeavor even though there was little chance the Lady Griz would advance to the Sweet 16. When Montana didn’t make it out of the first weekend, fans in droves still supported the tournament.
I strongly believe that fans would be supportive of an FCS National Championship game even if the Grizzlies were not one of the participating teams. But while Washington-Grizzly Stadium is the crown jewel of FCS football, the other athletic facility inadequacies must become a priority.
Home and visitor locker rooms are a necessity and the press box is middle-of-the road in the conference at best. It never hurts to express interest in such things and bidding this time around may make Missoula an attractive venue to the powers-that-be when the next opportunity arises. Kudos are in order for UM Executive VP Jim Foley and Athletic Director Jim O’Day for their bellwether leadership.
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