GRIZ GRIT: The Science of Scheduling

By Beacon Staff

Next year’s basketball schedule is about to be released and spots currently are being filled on future football schedules, which are penciled in years in advance. Excitement and speculation abounds about future opponents.

If the University of Montana is going to take on a Football Bowl Subdivision football foe or a higher-level league opponent in basketball, a couple of things have to occur.

The payday in football will need to be approximately the reported $650,000 UM received from Iowa in 2006, some $200,000 more than Oregon paid the previous season.

And in basketball, while the loss of a home date is not anywhere near as significant as it is in football, the payoff has to be sufficient and the opponent at a level where the Grizzlies don’t feel they are just serving as cannon fodder.

And that is not to imply that any team goes into a game not thinking they have to chance to compete.

There is some conjecture that Tennessee is a possible 2011 football opponent, which well could be announced by the time you read this. And UCLA is a probable Griz hoop opponent in early December, although fabled Pauley Pavilion is undergoing some renovation and the game reportedly could be hosted elsewhere in Los Angeles.

Money games have served as budget balancers for the football team in the last decade starting with Hawaii in 2001, but when Iowa paid the steep price to bring Montana to corn country to open the season, the bar was set.

And a near sellout home game against any Division-II opponent, which incidentally is paid a paltry amount to be possible Griz cannon fodder, makes cross-country play-up matchups in UM’s case rare indeed.

The other factor, of course, is conference movement, which makes scheduling home games, or home-and-home like with Appalachian State, even more challenging – but that’s for another day.

Filling the home hoop schedule might even be more challenging than football because few D-I teams look forward to traveling to Missoula in November or December, even though the raucous atmosphere that made it so difficult to win at Dahlberg Arena rarely now exists.

There’s been a lot of conjecture about declining basketball attendance, but I don’t think anyone really knows the answer.

Some cite the proliferation of hoops on television. Others blame the consistent extension of the football season, with 17 years of playoff appearances extending play deep into December. Others criticize the type of play and the success of the team, something that just doesn’t hold water with a guy who has seen the majority of the games for more than two decades. Still others point out the lack of student interest, especially in the non-conference when inner-season sends most students out of town for an inordinate amount of time.

That too is for another column.

Fortunately, because of the financial commitment of Karl Tyler Chevrolet, the Grizzlies have been able to reestablish their pre-season tournament, which not only gives them a couple of home games but also lets home fans see different styles of play from around the country.

Washington is more than happy to meet the Grizzlies somewhere in Seattle, even though Montana has enjoyed success against the Huskies in that venue and nearly upset an excellent UW team at Hec Edmundson Pavilion last year. But UW wants no part of a home-and-home situation and with their recent, even more moderate success, former Big Sky Conference member Gonzaga also isn’t inclined to travel to Missoula without a two- or three-game return guaranteed.

Let’s face it, home-and-home matchups with traditional rivals like Idaho, Washington State, Oregon State and the like pique interest more readily than facing a plethora of California schools, no matter how good they are.

Suffice it to say scheduling is by no means any easy proposition where in football Director of Athletics Jim O’Day is heavily involved. In hoops, the basketball staff spends a large amount of the spring trying to fill in the blanks with O’Day’s oversight.

And it’s not going to get any easier, especially with the recent success of the major sports programs. I guess sometimes you just pay a price for success.

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