On Monday this week, the Big Sky Conference announced that the October 2 game between the Eastern Washington Eagles and the Montana Grizzlies has been moved to ESPN2. The contest, which was originally scheduled to be aired on ESPNU, will mark the first time ever that a regular season Big Sky game airs on the network and, while outwardly this doesn’t seem like a big deal, this is a huge milestone for FCS football.
Let’s start with the television side of things. ESPN absolutely nailed this move because, as it stands currently, the Eagles and the Griz rank No. 6 and No. 4 respectively in both the AP and Coaches FCS polls, meaning this game is shaping up to be an entertaining showdown. What makes it more exciting is that both these teams hail from the same conference and have established themselves as rivals. The “Governors Cup” is played almost yearly with Montana leading the all-time series 28-17-1, but Eastern Washington has won seven of the last ten meetings (including once in the playoffs).
These two programs aren’t just exciting within the realm of the Big Sky either. Alongside numerous playoff showings, the schools have appeared in a combined nine FCS championships and have won three. Nationally speaking, these two have just the history and resume to land a primetime slot like this.
Also enticing is the fact that both these teams (and several of their Big Sky counterparts) have pulled off big upsets of FBS opponents earlier this fall. Montana should already be well-known in the college football world right now for shocking then-No. 20 Washington on the road to kick off their season while the Eagles took down UNLV in double overtime two nights earlier.
From a purely visual standpoint, this game will feature a unique twist that should be alluring to the casual football fan as well. The matchup will take place at Eastern Washington’s Roos Field which is famous for forgoing the traditional green playing surface and implementing red turf. Much like Boise State’s blue field, “The Inferno” as it’s known, makes games interesting for the opposition and fun for the fans. In fact, Montana has never beaten Eastern on the red turf since its installation in 2010.
This move isn’t just a big one for ESPN, though. Both these programs and the FCS as a whole should receive a boost in national attention, especially if the game turns out to be as good as many are anticipating. The Big Sky Conference did sign a deal this summer with ESPN+ that guaranteed all regular season Big Sky home games would be available for streaming on the platform. This, however, is much bigger than that. Per a 2018 report, there are approximately 86 million television households in America and over 93 percent of said households with pay TV have ESPN2 as part of their viewing package.
Traditionally, FCS football only gets airtime on ESPN’s family of networks during the playoffs, save for a few exceptions. In 2019, College Gameday made its way to Brookings, SD for a highly-touted showdown between South Dakota State and North Dakota State. Back in 2015, that very same NDSU program got the ESPN treatment against these Grizzlies in the annual kickoff game. Those contests each turned out to be excellent, but this doesn’t happen often and both teams will be looking to capitalize on this opportunity.
Eastern Washington and Montana each will have one game to play before they meet in two weeks. Kickoff for this game is set for 10:30 PM ET and, if you needed another reason to tune into this one, here are some streaks that will be on the line come October 2:
- The Eagles have won 18 consecutive home games dating back to November 4, 2017, the second longest active streak in the FCS.
- The Griz are looking for their second straight victory over Eastern after they won the last meeting 34-17.
If this goes well, ESPN may be more open to airing these games in the future and more eyes is what this level of football desperately needs. Perhaps a Top 10 or Top 5 matchup among some of the best teams in the FCS would be more enticing (and more deserving of attention) than expected blowouts at the FBS level. This game won’t be a fix-all in terms of getting the FCS the notoriety it deserves, but it could lend out quite the helping hand.