Former Griz players weigh in on FBS decision

By Amy Beth Hanson

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 10 2010 5:10 p.m. MST

HELENA, Mont. — There's no easy answer to the question: Should the University of Montana move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision or stay in the Football Championship Subdivision?

It's a complicated issue taking into account finances, facilities, national television exposure, athletic success, postseason play and the continuation of a 109-game rivalry with Montana State dating back to 1897.

The Western Athletic Conference has said Montana is high on its list as it looks for new members with the upcoming departure of Boise State, Nevada and Fresno State. However, WAC Commissioner Karl Benson said Wednesday, the conference is waiting for Montana to decide whether it is willing to move up to the FBS before issuing an invitation.

UM executive vice president Jim Foley said Wednesday that decision is expected in a few days.

University of Montana President Royce Engstrom will take into account information gathered during an internal assessment, as well as input from coaches, faculty, students and boosters.

Several former players like Montana's position as one of the top teams in the FCS, while others think looking at the Football Bowl Subdivision could be a good move.

In all cases, they don't want to see Montana lose its tradition of success while fielding teams that consist mostly of players from the state.

"I just like what we have going on," said Marc Mariani, a Havre native who walked on at Montana, played in two national championship games and is now the kick and punt returner for the Tennessee Titans. "I like that we have an unbelievable program. We're a big fish right now. I think a lot of the smaller FBS schools get lost in the wash."

It's hard to argue with Montana's recent success. The Grizzlies won their first national title in 1995, picked up another one in 2001 and played in national championship games in 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2009.

The Griz posted a 104-22 mark from 2000 through 2009.

"You can check this, but there's no team at any level in football that won more games than the Grizzlies from 2000 through ... last year," said Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, whose son, Brandon, played at Montana. "It's just a great program with a terrific tradition."

Dave Dickenson, the Great Falls quarterback who led the Griz to their first national title and went on to a successful career with the Calgary Stampeders and the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League, said he likes what the Griz have going.

"There's people that always think the grass is always greener," said Dickenson, now the quarterbacks coach for the Stamps. "I loved my experience there. I wouldn't want it any other way.

"I have, I guess, a fear that we'd lose some of our tradition there," he said. "That would bother me."

Miami Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter of Helena said he has mixed feelings about a potential move. He thinks the Griz deserve the recognition of playing in the FBS, but added: "I don't know how to put it, but you might not get that hometown feeling if you're moving up. I think overall it's going to be a good experience if it happens."

Colt Anderson of Butte, a former Griz walk-on who signed with the Philadelphia Eagles on Wednesday, would like to see the Griz stay where they are.

"I feel like what Montana has going on right now is a great thing," he said. "You never want to lose that."

Kroy Biermann of Hardin, who plays for the Atlanta Falcons, said he thinks a move up would be good for Montana, and that the team could still have success with in-state players.

"Montana does a great job of finding that talent and working with it," he said. "Kind of like me, I was a small-town kid. I didn't get looks because my high school wasn't good and we didn't win many games."

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