BILLINGS — Last week, the Frontier Conference announced an eight-game football schedule, which was finalized after voting by school presidents, athletic directors and coaches. The season is expected to begin Sept. 12.
In an ideal world, a full, 11-game schedule would start Aug. 29. But those plans were thrown into disarray by the continuing coronavirus pandemic.
For Rocky Mountain College coach Chris Stutzriem, eight games is good enough — all things considered.
“Unfortunately we can’t have a full season, but it’s better than no season,” Stutzriem told 406mtsports.com on Tuesday. “We’re excited about that. It’s a little bit later start date, which actually gives us more practice time than last year. So that’s a plus.
“Again, it’s the Frontier schedule. It’s going to be tough just like it is every year. We’ve got to make sure we stay healthy and battle all the elements of the COVID stuff and get a lot of guys reps, making sure if somebody is out or is quarantined that the next guy is ready to step in.”
Rocky is scheduled to open the season with consecutive road games, first at Montana Western (Sept. 12) followed by a trip to Southern Oregon (Sept. 19). The Battlin’ Bears’ first home contest is their homecoming game against the College of Idaho at Herb Klindt Field on Sept. 26.
They’ll then host Eastern Oregon on Oct. 3 before a league-wide midseason bye week on Oct. 10. Rocky’s following four games are against Carroll on the road (Oct. 17), Montana Tech at home (Oct. 24), Montana State-Northern on the road (Oct. 31) and a rematch with Western at home (Nov. 7).
“When you go on the road twice to begin the year, that’s tough,” Stutzriem said. “But I’d go play every game on the road if we had to, just to make sure we could play a season.”
“I don’t look at one part of the schedule and think it’s tougher than the others,” he said. “It’s the Frontier. It’s whoever prepares the best and is the healthiest and is ready to play on Saturdays.”
The first round of the NAIA playoffs is expected to begin Nov. 21.
Per league guidelines, players are scheduled to return to campus to officially begin preseason camp on Aug. 15.
“I think (the players) are just happy that there’s going to be a season,” Stutzriem said. “I think they’re happy that something is set in place, which gives us something to look forward to and work for. And I know things can still happen not in our favor, but them knowing what our plan is really helps.”
There’s been a rise in COVID-19 cases in several states, including Montana, but Stutzriem said that as of now the Rocky football program has not had a positive test for the virus.
However, Stutzriem said the school has only tested a handful of football players, and doesn’t currently have the capacity to conduct wide-ranging asymptomatic screenings.
“I don’t know how any school that isn’t Clemson or Ohio State can test every player every day,” he said. “I don’t know how you even do that in the real world.
“Whatever happens these next three weeks is going to be huge. If we keep seeing upticks (in cases) and things like that, it’s going to be tough.”
Stutzriem is preparing for his second season as the head coach at Rocky. Last year, the Battlin’ Bears finished 4-7.