MISSOULA — Montana's men's basketball team had its hands full during a challenging non-conference schedule that saw the Grizzlies take on four Power 5 conference schools as well as Mountain West foe New Mexico.
With Montana being a mid-major, larger universities tend to pay smaller schools to travel and play them during the non-conference -- and for the Griz, it's no different.
The Grizzlies will receive a total of $355,000 in guaranteed game payouts for taking on a number of larger universities to begin the season, according to public records obtained by MTN Sports. The public records requests were for each game contract of Montana's 11 non-conference contests.
The largest amount came from Oregon, which agreed to pay Montana $95,000. The Ducks were ranked No. 8 for that game and defeated the Griz 81-48 on Dec. 18. Oregon is currently ranked No. 4. The contract said that amount had to be paid to Montana within 30 days after the completion of the game. Montana was also granted up to 50 complimentary tickets to the game.
Washington agreed to pay Montana $90,000 for the game on Nov. 22. The Huskies were No. 25 in the nation when they hosted the Griz and ultimately won 73-56. Washington is not currently ranked. The contract with Washington does not specify when the amount needed to be paid, but the Griz were also granted up to 60 complimentary tickets.
Both Stanford and New Mexico agreed to pay Montana $85,000. Stanford, which Montana opened the season against on Nov. 6, agreed to pay UM within 30 days of the game's completion and also gave the Grizzlies 50 complimentary tickets. Stanford won 73-62.
The contract with New Mexico does not specify a deadline for payment. The Grizzlies played the Lobos on Dec. 1, and the Grizzlies led late before ultimately falling 72-63. New Mexico also granted Montana 50 complimentary tickets for the game.
Montana also agreed to pay Montana Tech and Montana State-Northern each $4,000 to travel to Missoula for a game. Montana defeated Northern 64-50 on Nov. 10 while the Orediggers upset the Grizzlies, 74-72, on Nov. 18.
Montana's matchups with North Dakota and Omaha were part of the Big Sky Conference-Summit League Challenge Series.
Montana also agreed to pay $95,000 to play in the Collegiate Hoops Roadshow this season. Those games included Montana's trip to take on Arkansas of the SEC as well as its home games against Texas Southern and Coppin State. The Griz were required to provide 50 complimentary tickets to the two schools it hosted in Missoula.
The money paid out by the Grizzlies for the Collegiate Hoops Roadshow, Tech and Northern were budgeted and paid for by the athletic department.
The guaranteed game money amounts have a large impact on the incentives for head coach Travis DeCuire's new contract which he signed back in April and went into effect July 1. According to his contract, DeCuire was required to generate up to $86,000 in guaranteed game revenue, which goes to the UM athletic department. After that $86,000 minimum is met, the next $120,000 goes to DeCuire as an incentive bonus. The next $30,000 goes to his assistant coaches as bonuses.
Then, the next $100,000 after that goes to DeCuire as another bonus, and the $15,000 after that goes to his assistants again. Everything after that goes back to the athletic department.
So, for those keeping score at home, after the initial $86,000 is met, that is $265,000 worth of bonuses that can be and were met. DeCuire received $220,000 while his assistants split $45,000. An additional $4,000 will go back to UM's athletic department.
"There's a method to the madness," Senior Associate Athletic Director and Chief Financial Officer Ryan Martin told MTN Sports on Tuesday. "Basketball is a different beast in the Big Sky because you're never going to get an at-large bid. Your non-conference truly is gearing you up for conference, but then it's also funny how it might be the difference between a 13 and 14 seed and that's a huge difference in whether or not you might be able to sneak out a win in the tournament."
According to college basketball stat wizard Ken Pomeroy on kenpom.com, Montana's strength of schedule in the non-conference ranks 16th in the country in terms of difficulty. Oregon, Washington, Stanford, New Mexico and Arkansas all went a combined 54-10 in their non-conference schedules.
Compared to other sports, Martin said he and the administration do more of the football scheduling while DeCuire has more control over who Montana plays in the non-conference. But while the high-majors provide an opportunity to play in bigger environments, Martin said it's good to get a good mix of mid-majors in as well, which is what the Griz did with the Collegiate Hoops Roadshow. Quality of opponent, game results, strength of schedule, location, scoring margin and more all effect Montana's NET ranking which is ultimately how the NCAA ranks and seeds men's basketball teams for the NCAA Tournament now.
So at the end of the day, Martin said getting a good mix of both high-major and mid-major opponents is a good recipe for setting the Griz up for a better tournament seeding should they make it for a third straight year.
"It's whatever Travis feels is best, so it's a good situation in the sense that we're not going to Travis and saying you have to play five high-major teams," Martin said. "But what we try to do with some of these (tournaments) is get some more mid-major games because one thing that we looked at in our scheduling is that the closer you can get to that 30-win mark, the better chance you have of moving off the 15-line if you make the tournament and go toward a 13 or maybe even a 12."
DeCuire has often said that playing multiple high-major teams is a good recruiting tool he and his staff use when on the road in telling kids that even though they're at a smaller school like Montana, they'll still get plenty of opportunities to play in big environments against good competition. In DeCuire's six years at UM, the Griz have played against Pac-12 schools 11 times.
Those games against high-majors are usually agreed upon to fill schedules, but Martin said the tournaments usually are in the works much earlier in the year.
"In one respect, the financial respect, it's a way to retain a good coach," Martin said. "I think everybody knows how good of a coach Travis is and I think even if you asked internally in the department, we were pleasantly surprised and happy that we were able to retain him, but we don't have an infinite pot of money so in that respect it's nice that we're able to get him more money and retain him.
"On the other side of things, from a basketball fan's perspective, it's nice to play those games, they're a good measuring stick. But then also you look at it, at the end of your non-conference schedule and you kind of don't know how good you are. But then you're like, if you're not playing those games, maybe we don't have the head coach that's going to lead you to some of those victories."