BUTTE and DILLON – Montana Tech and Montana Western have opted out of the Frontier Conference 2021 spring football season. The schools announced their decisions alongside the conference on Tuesday.
“As the pandemic has progressed, the health and safety of our student-athletes has always been our No. 1 priority,” Montana Western director of athletics Bill Wilson said in a media release. “As each week has passed, it became increasingly clear to us that moving forward with the conference football schedule was going to be very difficult at best. With scheduled games taking place as early as March, we had to make this very difficult decision.”
“After meeting with our seniors with respect to the conference moving to a four-game spring schedule, all those that are graduating this year have chosen to take the skills and knowledge they’ve gained from Montana Tech and move on to the next chapter of their lives,” said Tech athletic director Matt Stepan.
The fall 2020 football season was moved to the spring of 2021 in mid-August. As the winter progressed, the likelihood of practicing, let alone playing, proved to be increasingly difficult in Butte and Dillon.
Both teams were set to begin practice this week and participate in four-game spring schedules that ran from March to April. Instead, Montana Tech will delay the start of its full-team activities until after the semester has ended to minimize the potential impact of quarantines and isolations due to COVID-19 on campus.
Montana Western will still conduct a regular spring practice schedule. All the team's seniors will have the option to return next fall.
“Geography, weather and facilities are not on our side at Western," said Bulldogs head football coach Ryan Nourse. “We have had a harsh winter here and to practice and play on a natural surface is not safe. Frozen synthetic turf is tough enough to play on, but not as challenging and potentially harmful as frozen dirt and grass.”
“We have an opportunity to put together a consistent and effective training plan to prepare for the fall of 2021,” Nourse added. “This gives us the option to schedule potential scrimmages or exhibition games later in the spring if and when we can safely be prepared to play."
“We can’t wait to finally get back on the field and start practicing with our team for not only the first time in over a year but also for the first time as a coaching staff,” said Montana Tech coach Kyle Samson.
Tech and Western join Southern Oregon University in opting out of competing in the modified spring schedule. Five Frontier Conference schools -- College of Idaho, Carroll College, Eastern Oregon University, MSU-Northern and Rocky Mountain College -- have committed to play a spring schedule. The athletic directors of those five schools are working on a revised schedule. They still plan on playing a four-game conference schedule.
“We certainly know that these tough decisions by the three member institutions have been well thought out,” Frontier Conference commissioner Kent Paulson said. “The league is most appreciative that this decision has been made now so that the rest of the Frontier Conference member teams will be able to know what the modified schedule looks like. Teams can adjust travel plans, and coaches and student-athletes will have a definitive direction as we move forward in preparation for the upcoming conference season.”
(Editor's note: Montana Tech, Montana Western and Frontier Conference media releases were used in this report.)