Jockeying to Host the National Championship

By Beacon Staff

Like the 1952 comic monologue that went to No. 1 on the charts in 1952, “It’s in the Book,” or at least so to speak.

I’m sure the NCAA heard the rustling and was well aware of the intentions of the University of Montana to place a bid for the 2010 Football Championship Subdivision national championship game, which will be contested in January 2011, reportedly (in the name of great planning on its part) at the same time as the Sugar Bowl.

The recently formed Missoula Organizing Committee Special Events parlayed with UM to submit a sizable bid that will have to be given due consideration by the governing body.

A Montana bank, with the help of about 30 people who guaranteed their financial backing, issued a letter of credit that accompanied the 110-page documentation by the deadline.

The community’s financial guarantee is not much different of a process than in 1989, when UM first bid and was awarded a playoff game, the results of which helped pace the school’s trip to the first semi-final game where they lost at eventual national champion Georgia Southern.

That year a contingent headed by Missoula bar owner Gordie Fix ponied up a guarantee (in excess of $110,000) to bring the first and second round games against Jackson State and Eastern Illinois to Missoula, prompting some schools and fans to loudly complain that Missoula bought the playoff rounds.

Nearly 12,000 fans showed up, the largest first-round crowd, taking backers off the hook for the guarantee, giving the athletic department a taste of what hosting such an event was all about and setting the stage for future endeavors like the NCAA Regional Women’s Basketball Tournament.

While the financial guarantee isn’t all the NCAA considers when awarding a bid, it certainly can be argued that the level of financial stability and community support are factors in its decision.

A source close to the organizing committee told me several weeks ago that the break-even point for attendance to get backers off the hook this time around is about 15,000 fans.

So the question arises, while I would love to see the national championship game return to a Big Sky Conference facility for the first time since Pocatello hosted the event in 1987 and 1988, if the Grizzlies did not advance to the title game, would 15,000 fans be inclined to attend a nationally televised night game in the first week of January between say Liberty University (Lynchburg, Va.) and Florida A&M (Tallahassee, Fla.)?

Sorry to the alums of those institutions, some of whom I’m sure will read this.

It’s not just about attendance to be able to reach the financial break-even point, it’s about ticket sales.

And, with close to 19,000 season ticket holders, you can bet if the title game does come to Missoula, there will be a strong push to include tickets to the championship as part of the season ticket package – at an increased cost of course.

Is that viable in these challenging economic times when attendance at athletic events – albeit not yet in Missoula – is declining?

Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea and strongly support Athletic Director Jim O’Day in his attempts to increase the school and the area’s athletic, academic and economic visibility. I’m just not convinced a stadium one-third full of bundled and adult-beverage-insulated football stalwarts and a field ringed with piles of snow with a wind chill south of single digits does much for the recruiting effort.

Bringing the game to Missoula, however, could well enhance an ongoing effort to attract donors to finance the much-needed upgrading of locker rooms, study areas, the press box and offices.

Eastern Washington also submitted a bid with the game to be contested at Joe Albi Stadium, which has even a larger capacity that Washington Grizzly Stadium, and Chattanooga also reportedly wants to hang on to the game it has hosted since 1997.

An NCAA committee may visit UM this month prior to the naming of finalists in early November.

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