Scheduling Montana

The announcement of Montana’s future appearances on the Coyote football schedule arrived during January of 2012 when then-athletic director David Sayler was in the process of hammering out arrangements for future non-conference games.

Montana had its scheduled contest with Appalachian State that year moved to accommodate television, opening up a spot that motivated Sayler to step in and figure out a deal where USD would play the Grizzlies three times. The first of these would be a cash game where Montana would pay USD $200,000 to show up in 2012. The second of which, which takes place on Saturday at the DakotaDome, would be part of a home-and-home series where the Coyotes would travel to Montana in 2014.

It seems sensible enough, but the unconventional timing of Montana’s appearance – in November right before season-ending contests with rivalry heavyweights SDSU and NDSU – would certainly make you wonder whether the former AD had the football program’s best interests at heart.

Coupled with moving last year’s game with NDSU to Howard Wood Field, there is no question that Sayler’s scheduling made things more difficult for a team that has been in the process of climbing out of a hole created by inclusion in the Missouri Valley Conference.

That’s not to say the former athletic director was without justification for the decisions he made. I thought playing at Howard Wood was a good idea for a program looking for a higher profile in Sioux Falls and a cozier relationship with the money folks in the state’s largest city. I also believe USD could have played that game at the DakotaDome or on the moon and the end result would have closely resembled the pummeling the Coyotes suffered at Howard Wood.

Joe Glenn was asked by some out-of-state media about playing home games off campus earlier this year during the weekly Missouri Valley teleconference. Paraphrasing, he said it was a bad idea and it wouldn’t happen again if he has anything to say about it.

Obviously, the circumstances with the agreement with Montana are completely different here except for the fact that the short-term competitive interests of the team were secondary to other factors of debatable importance.

Getting top-level programs to visit the DakotaDome? A worthy goal, no question, and one that Sayler cited when the announcement of the arrangement with Montana came out. But at what competitive cost? Coaches will project toughness in these situations and Glenn didn’t disappoint on Tuesday on that count, saying it’s not a coach’s place to consider those decisions.

 “Don’t worry about the mules going blind,” he could have said (but didn’t). “Just load the wagon.”

Any squawking about things being too difficult would seem like whining to some, but there isn’t a school in the nation that does not try to weave what I would call “reasonable challenges” into a non-conference  schedule. Montana’s appearance is conspicuous both because of the perennial quality of that program and cumbersome timing of the visit, tucked as it is into a month that already includes Youngstown State, SDSU and NDSU.

Had the Coyotes won last week, they’d still be harboring realistic playoff hopes right now. The idea of then having to play a late-season game with Montana would have seemed a cruel joke perpetuated on the program by an athletic director who left town.

As it is, it remains what was in 2011 an avoidable inconvenience. Somehow, some way, the powers that be could have respected the fact that with UC Davis, Northern Arizona and Kansas on the 2013 schedule, they were asking enough of the football team. Making the Coyotes play Montana in November a week before the SDSU game was piling on.