George Ferguson: Eight years later I'm still saying it: Cat-Griz and state football need to separate
From The Fringe: This column appeared in the November 19, 2014 edition of the Havre Daily News
Last updated 11/15/2022 at 9:08am
Well this didn't age very well. Or at least, no one listened.
I wrote this column almost eight years ago to the day, and with the Brawl of the Wild getting bigger and bigger, I thought it was time to revisit the subject. This column,n ran on Cat-Griz week 2014, but I've obviously updated some of it to reflect this year's Brawl.
It's Cat-Griz week. It's the week everybody who cares about college football, and even many that don't on a regular basis, wait for for an entire year. In other words, it doesn't get any better than this.
Now, I always start my Cat-Griz week coverage with an opinion column. And normally, I rant and rave about how great the rivalry is, or how crazy the two fan bases are. I've ranted and raved about the social media era of Cat-Griz, I've went off on my own Cat-Griz experiences, and of course, I've written about Marc Mariani many, many times.
But this column is going to be different, and in some circles, it might not be very popular. But I've never been about winning popularity contests.
You see, this column is going in a different direction, and it has very little to do with the 114th Brawl of the Wild, which will be played Saturday afternoon in Missoula. While nearly 27,000 fans will be inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium Saturday watching the latest installment of this storied and bitter rivalry, and thousands upon thousands more will be watching on television around the world, this column is about those select few who won't be there and won't be able to see much of it on television.
The annual Cat-Griz game is the largest sporting event held in Montana every year. And in many ways, it's one of the most lucrative weekends on the calendar in Montana. But it isn't alone. This weekend also marks the end of the Montana high school football season, as state championship games from Class AA down to Six-Man will be played Friday and Saturday.
And for me, that's always been a problem.
Know this. I'm as excited as anybody out there that the Big Sandy Pioneers are playing in the 2022 Class C Six-Man state championship game Saturday. For those kids, and for every other football player who has made it this far, win or lose, Saturday will be a day they'll remember for the rest of their lives. But again, there's a problem.
Simply put, the Cat-Griz game and the high school football championships are just too big to share the same day in my opinion, and I've felt that way for a long time. Some will argue that it's a scheduling conflict that's unavoidable, but I just don't see it that way.
For starters, I feel the high school football season is just too long, and I don't see any reason why the Montana High School Association can't fix that. These kids started practice Aug. 11, and for those who made it to the playoffs, which began Nov. 1, that's just short of a three-month season. And for those kids who were fortunate enough to make it to state championship weekend, tack on another 21 days.
Now, to me, with the missed school, the travel, the practice, the fact that some kids have jobs and family obligations, and on and on, that seems like an awfully long football season. Factor in injuries and the mental toll the pressure of high school football takes on kids, and the football season is just too long, at least for 14 to 18-year-olds. That's just the way I see it.
And here's another example of how long the high school football season is getting. While many kids around the state prepare to play the game of their lives this Saturday, basketball, wrestling and swimming practice begins this week. In my 20-plus years of covering, watching and coaching high school sports, I haven't seen the seasons overlap like this before.
So now we are going to ask these kids to play football for over three months, and jump right into the winter sports season with no time off. No rest, no recovery, no time to just focus on school or family, or even just to decompress from what is a pressure-packed football season. That, to me at least, is not the best idea.
I know, in states like California, the high school football season is even longer, and basketball begins well before the football season is over. But Montana isn't California, and there aren't nearly as many examples of high schools in the big states having to share as many athletes in as many sports as we do here in Montana. So would it be too much to ask to give these kids a little break? Even if the kids aren't asking for that break, trust me, they need it and they sure could use it.
And in my mind, there would be nothing wrong with that break coming on Cat-Griz weekend. Yes, it's true, for the schools, the fans, the coaches and the players playing in state championship games from Kalispell to Wibaux this weekend, their minds won't be on Missoula and the Brawl of the Wild. At least not until their games are over. For these kids, for these communities, and for these schools, Saturday is the biggest day of their lives, and in the moment, it doesn't matter that they're missing the Cat-Griz football game.
But that doesn't make it right. Just because that's the way it is, and that's the way we've always done it, doesn't mean it can't be changed Why should anyone, football players, parents, school administrators, or anyone else associated with high school football have to miss out on what is the single biggest sporting event in Montana each and every year? Why should anyone have to miss out on what is Montana's Super Bowl?
In other words, why can't we have both? Why can't communities like Chinook get to experience the thrill of playing for a state football championship, and also experience the thrill of attending or watching the Cat-Griz game if that's what they want?
Only the MHSA knows the answer to that question. But in my opinion, the answer is simple. I think we, as Montanan's deserve the option of both, especially our high school student-athletes. I think those student-athletes, and the schools and communities they live in and play for, should be able to experience state championship football and the Cat-Griz football game in the same year.
There was a movement that seemed to gain some traction in recent years, and that's to have Missoula or Bozeman host all of the state football championship games in one stadium. The idea is, if Cat-Griz is in Missoula, then all of the state football championship games would be played in Bozeman's Bobcat Stadium over the course of two or three days. I, personally, am not opposed to that idea, and much of the rest of the country already does that at famous college and pro stadiums in respective states. That talk, though, has died down again in recent years.
And that idea doesn't change what I'm talking about. It doesn't shorten the high school football season, and it doesn't give these kids, and these communities the chance to experience championship high school football and Cat-Griz weekend. Again, I don't think there needs to be a choice. I look at the calendar and I think we can have both.
Our high school football players give us so much for three months out of the year. They entertain us, they excite us and they do it all for nothing more than the love of the game, and the love of their school and their community. And in my humble opinion, I think it's a shame that some of them don't have the option of also enjoying the most important and impactful sporting event our state has to offer ... and that's the Cat-Griz game.
After all, we here in Montana don't take the Cat-Griz game for granted. We don't have a professional team we can go watch in person for eight weeks of the season. We don't have the massive sporting landscape, with so many different options to choose from, like other parts of the country do.
No, we as Montanan's have the Brawl of the Wild, and it comes but once a year. And in my opinion, whether you're a high school football player, or whether you could care less about college football for most of the year, all of us in Montana should have the option of attending a Cat-Griz football game.
In my mind, the Cat-Griz game is as much a rite of passage, as much a part of our culture, as is high school football. In fact, the two are very much intertwined, and there's no reason why we can't have both. All of us. There's no reason why all of us can't enjoy both. And I think it's about time we all have that option.
HDN has you
Once again, the Havre Daily News will have a full week of Cat-Griz stories, as well as a full preview of the game on Friday. Don't miss our annual Cat-Griz Game Day section, which also runs Friday, while next Monday, we'll have complete coverage of all that happened in Bozeman.