Blog Entry

Montana AD talks money with fans in long e-mail

Posted on: October 6, 2010 7:35 pm

Posted by Adam Jacobi

As has been reported earlier, Montana is one of the schools being closely considered for membership in the WAC. It'd be a huge step up for the Grizzlies, who haven't been a I-A football school since 1962, and Montana fans are understandably anxious about whether a study commissioned by the school determines Montana should move up a division or not. These aren't decisions to be made on a whim, like what to eat at McDonalds or hiring Lane Kiffin.

Montana's AD Jim O'Day has heard these concerns, and replied with a remarkably long, detailed e-mail that was circulated among Montana fans before being posted to, a popular Montana Grizzlies fan board. We have confirmed with the Montana athletic department that the letter is genuine. And while it's much too long to post here in full, there was one particularly scary detail about how the school currently struggles with finances (bolded emphasis ours):

The FCS playoff system is hurting financially. We produced $1.1 million of last year’s budget of $2.5 million. The other 11 games produced less than $1 million TOTAL. The NCAA lost almost $500,000 again, and it will not continue to tolerate to follow this plan. Now we’ve added another round and four more teams…. Being on the committee, and as chair, I know this is a major concern to the NCAA – and a last-gasp reason for changing to Frisco, Texas, in hopes of attracting more attention and support. It won’t help to move the championship back three weeks into January – let alone that it will be taking place 40 minutes away from the Cotton Bowl, which has also been moved to that night. So much for FCS exposure on national television. Just to keep the student-athletes on campus during Christmas will also cost the two schools in the championship an additional $100,000 – none of which is budgeted. And to put in perspective, we LOST $150,000 each of the past two year going to the championship game. Had we won, the incentives for coaches would have put the losses over $200,000 each time. We get no additional revenue for any of this.

It's really strange to think of a school being unable to afford to win a championship in football, but depending on what budget flexibility existed at Montana, that could have certainly been the case. Now, an economist would look at this and simply deduce that the compensation structure is insane -- after all, according to O'Day, winning the title would not have resulted in the revenue necessary to justify $50,000 in bonuses. But incentives in a highly competitive job field are often just this insane, so here we are.

It is a cannon shot to the stomach of playoff advocates to see this kind of evidence that the current FCS playoff structure is -- to put it lightly -- in serious trouble. Of course, the money involved in a FBS playoff would be dramatically different, but the unpredictable nature of the playoff is usually a severe detriment to fan involvement, and we see that in the light revenues from most of the FCS playoff games this year. Fans can't reliably make and change plans week to week, and that's what would be asked if the NCAA moved anywhere past a plus-one format.

But this is about Montana, and whether Montana should go to the WAC, and their own financial struggles despite being the preeminent FCS program west of the Mississippi. Why do they struggle? Because the rest of the conference knows Montana's the cash cow. Take what happens whenever Montana plays at arch-rival Montana State:

By league policy, 60% of the revenue from these telecasts go to the HOME team (not UM), 35% to the visitor and 5% to the league. So how out-of-line is this: Last year, MSU received $60,000 of KPAX’s bid (to do UM games), while Montana received $35,000 and the conference $5,000. These are the reasons why Boise State left the Big Sky in the mid-1990s; why BYU and Texas are doing what they’re doing right now. They want to control their television money. The television money should be following UM, but we get outvoted on this 8-1 whenever it comes up.

Of course, this can only mean disaster for the Big Sky if that cash cow leaves, and O'Day freely acknowledges that as a concern. It's easy to say "well the Big Sky's problems aren't Montana's problems," but they are Montana State's, and Montana doesn't exist in a vacuum away from the other member schools -- especially if Division I changes force Montana to rejoin any of them in the unforeseen future.

So if things are this up in the air for Montana, the strongest of the five contenders for WAC membership, imagine what uncertainty awaits the other schools trying to make the leap -- and, for that matter, what awaits the schools who aren't even considering a move to FBS.


Since: Oct 7, 2010
Posted on: October 7, 2010 11:41 pm

Montana AD talks money with fans in long e-mail

I like your dream, but can't imagine that it will look like that too many teams without the cash cow for conferences...Football!!
But we can dream!

Since: Oct 7, 2010
Posted on: October 7, 2010 11:39 pm

Montana AD talks money with fans in long e-mail

A few things to think about...1. First of all the NCAA lost money on the attendance of the FCS playoffs, but I wonder if they take into consideration the money ESPN pays to broadcast the games. If a home team can only muster 2661 fans for a 2nd round game (Villanova) then you will lose money on attendance every year.2. I believe that O'day is getting ready to hold up the Big Sky Conference or the WAC to keep the majority of its TV rights in order to keep it a powerhouse in football. This is what the email is all about....the benjamins.3. A move up to the WAC is not necessarily a financial win.  If Hawaii leaves to become independent then what sort of TV contract will the WAC be able to renegotiate with the remaining members?4. If the Grizzlies stay in the Big Sky and keep their TV money, who is to say that the NCAA doesn't just shut down the playoffs (unless TV money makes it profitable) and then the Griz have to beg to get into a lower tier conference.I do not envy O'day and the new president as this is going to be a very difficult decision to make...By the way the Griz have won 2 in a row and will probably make it 3 tomorrow.  Playoff bound again!!  We get to lose more money!!!  

Since: Oct 23, 2009
Posted on: October 7, 2010 10:54 am

Montana AD talks money with fans in long e-mail

Im in Michigan and i like the idea of Montana moving to the WAC.  Im worried about the attendence policy for games.  I would be supprised if this scenario plays out, Montana would $$$ in the WAC and become a NATIONALLY known team, with its resources, possibly to the level of Boise State even, (yes I went there, but wait theres more) but I can see the gov't telling the WAC to get Montana you must take Montana State who is not that successful, or profitable, right now, neither was Michigan State (another MSU) when it started up between 1900-1950's.) NOW this is more rediculous, Idaho State, Portland State, and Eastern Washington, move up to the WAC giving the WAC a Strong Pacific/Rockey Mountian geography. Sacramento State might also.  Texas State is a forgone conclusion and will be huge, but UT-San Antonio might not be successful. So I think Montana will go and then Montana State, and later Portland State, Idaho State, and Eastern Washington, maybe even Sac State.  I personally dream of a northwest confrence, or cascadia conference consisting of, (some schools dont have football, and are small, and broke, but I said its a dream)

Montana State
Idaho State
Utah State
Denver (no FTBL, priv. SUNBELT!!)
Gonzaga (no FTBL, cath. in WCC)
Seattle (no FTBL, cath. moving up from DIII to DI)
Portland (no FTBL, cath. in WCC)
Portland State
Sacramento State
San Jose State

Simon Frasier (BC)
Univ. British Columbia (BC)
Vancouver U. ... (BC)
Victoria (BC)
Calgary (AB)
Alberta (AB)
Eastern Washington (The turff must go, it will go by force from NCAA in sure within the next ten years. looking at it will hurt your eyes.)
Northern Arizona

Since: May 14, 2008
Posted on: October 7, 2010 7:04 am

Montana AD talks money with fans in long e-mail

And the whole point of the article is????

It's the economy stupid!!!!  (Remember that famous, oh so respectful line?)

Just who is going to PAY for this so-called "playoff" in the D1A ranks????   Would all the NFL (No-Fun League) fans please stand up and open their checkbooks? Or are you just advocating for some OTHER guy to pay for your entertainment? Yeah, let the "governement" pay for it. Like European soccer while the lazy blobs play pocket pool.  If it weren't for big bucks from the supporters and advertisers(who rarely get a full return on their money) there would be NO CFB or any college sports programs! Because what money comes in from football pays for everything else. Without those private bucks coming in, there would be just a handful of teams that could survive without stripping money from the general budget or jacking tuition way higher than it already needs to be. You want a football "playoff"? Start promoting cutting professors salaries to pay for it and see if CFB doesn't go the way of the dinosaurs.

Since: Sep 26, 2010
Posted on: October 7, 2010 5:21 am

Montana AD talks money with fans in long e-mail

Poor old Grizz - not even having a good year on the field (up to this point) with this to distract them.

If a 13-1 season results in a loss, then they have to look at other options.  If they are the big fish in the small pond having to play nice financially with the other teams, one can understand why moving up looks good - it has worked for Boise State.

Not knowing how big a school needs to be in order to sustain the cost of a losing football team (as they make a transition upwards) it may just be a bridge too far, but if they don't jump are they doomed anyway?

The Grizz have massive local support, a nice brand, but a small market compared to other schools.  Missoula has what, 100,000 population?

I am sure the changes that happen within BCS and conference shake-ups (as seen through a crystal ball) will surely determine whether they jump off the sinking ship on to another bigger sinking ship, or whether they get the buckets out an work like blazers on their little boat.

Regardless, how nice to see "management" taking the time to explain their position in this college football world.

Since: Nov 12, 2007
Posted on: October 6, 2010 8:36 pm

Montana AD talks money with fans in long e-mail

Too bad the WAC appears to be the only option for a successful powerhouse like Montana.  Might be jumping from one sinking ship (FCS) to another (WAC).  At least they appear to be able to make money by going to the FBS and make a bowl appearance once eligible.

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