When Brent Vigen coaches his first game as the head football coach at Montana State, he'll be doing so in familiar territory. The Bobcats play at Wyoming, where Vigen served as the Cowboys' offensive coordinator from 2014-20, on Sept. 4 to start the 2021 season.
Vigen was introduced as MSU's 33rd head football coach earlier this year.
Vigen's Bobcats will be punching up a weight class when they travel to Wyoming, as is common for FCS-level programs around the country. Guarantee games -- matchups where hosting programs guarantee payment to visiting programs -- are an integral part of the college football schedule. For many small-school programs, guarantee games are essential, as they help offset expenses throughout the season.
In Montana State's case, the Wyoming payout will help offset the cost of two non-conference games at Bobcat Stadium this fall.
MTN Sports obtained copies of the contracts for MSU's 2021 non-conference games with Wyoming, Drake and San Diego. Per those contracts, Montana State will receive $425,000 from Wyoming and pay Drake and San Diego $275,000 each. The Bobcats host the Bulldogs on Sept. 11 and the Toreros on Sept. 18 before kicking off their eight-game Big Sky Conference schedule at Portland State on Sept. 25.
All three contracts have buyouts if either team breaks the agreement. MSU's contract with Wyoming includes a $400,000 buyout to be paid by the team that cancels the game. The buyout in the contracts with Drake and San Diego is set at $200,000.
Wyoming will allot MSU 400 complimentary tickets, while MSU will allot Drake and San Diego 150 tickets each.
Montana State director of athletics Leon Costello, who signed all three agreements for MSU, has previously stated that the Bobcats aim to have six home games every year. Part of filling out the schedule, he said, is paying guarantees to teams to travel to Bozeman.
Costello took over as MSU's director of athletics in June of 2016, and the Bobcats have scheduled two non-conference home games each season. (Editor's note: Some of those games, particularly in 2016, 2017 and 2018 were agreed upon before Costello began his tenure.) In 2019, the last season the Bobcats competed, MSU traveled to Texas Tech and Western Illinois and hosted Southeast Missouri State and Norfolk State in their non-conference schedule.
In 2020, MSU was scheduled to host Long Island University and Dixie State and travel to Utah, but the 2020 fall season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While the 2021 schedule is fully built, Costello and the Bobcats have also begun building out schedules well into the future. In 2022, Montana State is scheduled to host Morehead State and travel to Oregon State; in 2023 and 2024, Montana State will play a home-and-home series with Dixie State, with the 2023 meeting in Bozeman and the 2024 game in St. George, Utah; in 2025, MSU is slated to travel to Oregon.
"It’s like a puzzle trying to get it all together," Costello told MTN Sports in a 2018 interview. "Sometimes you’re doing home-and-homes, sometimes you’re not. Sometimes you’re trying to pay a guarantee to bring somebody here. The best way to describe it is, it’s a nice, big puzzle you’re playing with every single year, and sometimes you’re looking four and five years out to make that puzzle work.”
For a look at Montana's guaranteed game schedule in 2021, click here.