HELENA — There will be no college football in Montana this fall.
The Frontier Conference is the latest group to move its football season to the spring after the Council of Presidents met via videoconference Thursday.
Montana and Montana State already were forced to suspend their seasons after the Big Sky announced the change earlier in August due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As disappointing as it is for our student-athletes not to be able to play within their designated seasons, I think the student-athletes know these decisions are being made with their best interests in mind,” Frontier Conference Commissioner Kent Paulson said.
The upcoming Frontier Conference football season was already going to look different after the College of Idaho, Southern Oregon and Eastern Oregon elected to move their football seasons to the spring. Plans were being made to play an eight-game schedule among the five Montana teams, but after hearing county health departments’ concerns, Paulson said a change was needed.
“It wasn’t like we were seeing different things than other conferences but we vowed from the beginning that we weren’t going to allow other conferences to dissuade or persuade our decisions,” Paulson said. “We were acting on behalf of the Frontier Conference only.”
Montana Western athletic director Bill Wilson said the postponement is disappointing but added that Frontier ADs have spent months leaving no stone unturned in exploring possible ways to safely conduct a season.
“I think (COVID-19) has been proven to be a challenging and uncertain situation for everybody, so you just try to take all the information that you can and make decisions from there,” Wilson said.
While many throughout the Frontier Conference have expressed heartbreak, especially for the student-athletes, Rocky Mountain head football coach Chris Stutzriem said he thinks it’s the best move for the conference.
“I think it’s smart for the health and safety for our (players). It’s the unknown,” said Stutzriem, who will be entering his second season. “The last thing I want is to play four games and then we’re done, or we play a week and then we’re out for three weeks or things like that.”
The decision to move football to the spring follows the Frontier’s decision late last week to postpone its volleyball season, but Paulson said the conference still plans to have fall cross country and golf seasons.
“It isn’t like we are just waiting for things to change, but when we think change is necessary that is an option we are keeping open,” he said.
With football moving to spring the question now is when Montana could see NAIA football again.
“We are going to start drafting schedules but now we have a situation where on the front end we could have (poor) weather and the back end we have to find a date for the NAIA Championships and then work backward,” Paulson said.
A spring football season will reunite the eight Frontier Conference teams to play a normal schedule, but Paulson does not know how many games will be scheduled.
"The schedule is going to be determined by certain parameters,” he said. “Some of that good weather in Oregon might help us. We might be able to structure a schedule with some games in Montana, but dusting a field off in February is probably not a real possibility in Montana.”
While schools such as Carroll College and Rocky still plan to open fall camp with a practice Saturday morning, others will look to start practices in the spring. Carroll Athletic Director Charlie Gross stated in a press release that he is disappointed because a lot of preparation went into getting ready to kick off the season.
Gross did not return 406mtsports.com phone calls. Rocky Mountain Athletic Director Jeff Malby declined to comment about the decision.
Luke Shelton of the Montana Standard and Greg Rachac of the Billings Gazette contributed to this story.