Jim O'Day's second letter to students on The Zoo

Here's a letter from Jim O'Day to the students. It's the second time Jim O'Day has written such a letter. This time the marketing department had to take out a full page ad in the Kaimin.

Students Challenge For East Side Seats in Dahlberg Arena Falling Short

Last fall, I issued a challenge to the students at The University of Montana that would allow them the opportunity to return to the east side seats in Dahlberg Arena for Grizzly men’s basketball games for the first time in a decade. It was a challenge to re-energize the student section like the days of “The Zoo” from the early 1970s through 1999. Our goal was to average at least 700 students per home contests, and create a lively environment that would return Dahlberg Arena to the intimidating home-court arena it had been for the Grizzlies prior to the Adams Center renovation.

I envisioned a scene similar to that at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium or the Kennel at Gonzaga University in Spokane. Instead, the numbers have been rather sporadic. Good student attendance was noted at the Colorado State game (1,140) when we experimented with re-locating the students to the east side seats on Nov. 9 and again for rival Montana State (1,131) when they remained in their current end zone sections on Feb. 9. (Incidentally, both were impressive victories by the home team). Aside from that, the most noticeable crowds were for Cal-State Fullerton (587 on Nov. 30) and the University of Portland (516 on Dec. 7). Since the Intersession break, the largest student attendance aside from MSU was for Eastern Washington on Thursday, Jan. 24 when 492 students went through the turnstiles. In our most recent games, we had 225 students for Sacramento State and 357 for Northern Arizona.

For the 13 home games thus far, we are averaging 432 students per game – or about 25 more per game than last year. For the 10 games outside of the Intersession period, the average is still only 517. That being said, it will take an impressive showing this week for Thursday’s game against Northern Colorado, and again Saturday night for league champion Portland State, for UM Athletics to take a serious look at moving our dedicated boosters away from the east side.

Let me be clear: I’d like nothing more than to re-visit the return of the students to those seats next year, but if they don’t show up now, it doesn’t make much financial sense. It wouldn’t be a battle I’m willing to wage – nor a very smart one. Remember, I’m also being tugged in another direction by loyal boosters who pay significant dollars to sit in those seats, who like the east side and its proximately to the playing floor. It isn’t an easy decision, unless, of course, the students chose not to attend the games.

There are two home games remaining. I challenge you to attend in big numbers, and make our decision tougher. Come out and support your peers, and create an atmosphere that is the envy of the Big Sky Conference. The players will appreciate it, the fans will enjoy it and we’ll all be winners. For those students who have loyally supported the team this year, I thank you – and acknowledge the effort you’ve made to get this challenge off the ground. Let’s hope more follow your lead this week.


Jim O'Day
Director of Athletics
The University of Montana
Phone: 406.243.5348

More free Griz basketball shirts

While the marketing department shouldn't be forced into bribing students with shirts,  we're down to the very end now and they have to give the students every incentive they can. Shouldn't just being able to come watch your team blow out the opponent by 33 be enough?

Anyway, the shirts were given out last night at the Sac State game but seeing as no one showed up, there'll be plenty left for the NAU game.

Student support abysmal so far, still time to turn it around

As could be expected y those students who actually made it to a few men's basketball game, the numbers are student attendance are not good. After the phenomenal turnout for the CSU opener, O'day set an attendance mark that, if hit, would guarantee the students courtside students next season. That mark: 900.

This morning's Kaimin has a story on the results so far. It's not good. Up to this point the men's team is averaging 390. It's only 10 off the pace of conference-leading NAU but  still abysmal when compared to the goal for the season. O'Day now says he'd be content with a bit less than the original 900.

According to the article, O'Day now says he would have to see 700 at each game to consider displacing the 450 season ticket holders. Five of the Griz's final seven games are at home so the students have plenty of opportunities to get out there.

O'Day also says that it's not just about showing up:

In addition to more students, O’Day said he would like to see more enthusiasm and passion from the students at the games. As it is, students often filter in after games have tipped off and sit and watch passively, he said.

“It reminds me of a Lakers game in Los Angeles,” O’Day said, alluding to an atmosphere where it is more important to be seen supporting a team than actually trying to bolster it.

O’Day said an unenthusiastic crowd rubs off on the team and that his primary goal in potentially relocating the students is giving a boost to the team.

“I know that that’s been frustrating to (the Griz), and that‘s one of the things that I hope we can do down the stretch here,” he said.

The Griz are making efforts to get it started with Saturday's Griz-Cat game. Doors will open a half hour early—at 5:30—and free t-shirts will be given out to the first 800 students as part of a white-out.

Pearl Jam's Jeff Ament on Griz basketball

Tack another one onto the list of people who wish the hype and atmosphere returned to Montana basketball. Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament answers a few questions on Griz hoops in an interview with the Missoulian.
Q: You go to a lot of Griz basketball games. What's your favorite part of it?

A: I just love watching these guys play and I really appreciate the purity of the game at the college level. Jordan (Hasquet) is an exciting local kid, Cam (Rundles) is amazing, (Brian) Qvale has a great future. To me, it seems like they really enjoy playing together. I think Wayne (Tinkle) is doing a great job. But the best games I remember seeing were when I went to school here from 1981-83. The place would be just packed. I wish it could get back to that type of atmosphere, like football is now. I guess I just don't really get why basketball hasn't taken off again like that. It's probably the best value in town for the entertainment. The team can do a lot this year and they're fun to watch, and hopefully that will translate into ticket sales.

Q: Who are your favorite all-time Griz basketball players?

A: Oh man, that's a tough one. My man Larry (Krystkowiak) and Wayne (Tinkle) are going to kill me. Those guys are in my top four, no doubt, but I have to go with Micheal Ray Richardson. I saw Micheal Ray play when I was younger. For 10 bucks, we could ride a bus from Big Sandy and come watch the Griz. I'd never seen such a great player. I also love Derrick Pope. That guy was unbelievable.
It'd be fun to see Jeff to a game and stand with the students. Jeff, if you're reading this, feel free.


Nine hundred. That's the number. If we average 900 students per game, we get our courtside seats back, according to Marketing Director Christie Anderson. If not, no dice. As of right now, before the Portland game, we have it. This number/average does not include non-D1 games.  However, we only got 600 to the CSF game so the CSU opener is carrying the average. We need to get this going. To all those interested, get the word out. We average 3,000 per football game. We need less than a third. Come on. Imagine, two sports, equally as wild. Get this going, get it out.

Another person in favor of moving the students back: former Griz Engellant says we need to bring back 'The Zoo'

This morning's Missoulian features a profile on former Griz basketball player Daren Engellant. It's a good read, with the most interesting part being his opinion on the student section.
One thing for sure: Engellant is a big fan of the idea of moving the students back to side court in Dahlberg Arena and trying to recreate the old Zoo atmosphere.

"I think it's a great idea," Engellant said. "I really was surprised they had done that (moved the students out) and I know the reasons they do it. But when they built that whole arena I guess I was skeptical.

"That (students at side court) was a huge advantage for us," he elaborated. "Even when they introduced our team and we could go over there and slap five to all the football players who were down there supporting us and standing up.

"The other team would take the ball out of bounds and they'd be screaming in their ear. You talk about a sixth man. That was huge for us. You get the students there and it actually becomes a participatory sport because they will stand.

"I would tell you that we probably wouldn't have had the record we had at home if we didn't have the support of those students at courtside."
How much does this sentiment need repeating? The student section can have an enormous impact on the game. That is, when a third of it isn't sitting down while others are moving away at the 8-minute dash. No one can deny that the CSU opener was one of the most enjoyable basketball games of the past three to four years. The only other one that comes close is the Stanford opener. If the students want to get the seats back for good, we have to earn them. Right now, we're not doing it.

Oh, and look at that, football players supporting the basketball team. Who would've thought? Them actually coming and supporting other teams after we go and watch them, sometimes in the cold, and stand for close to four hours? That's amazing.

Imagine, Missoula as a basketball town

On the Saturday of Cat-Griz, The Missoulian dared to run an article on basketball. While the article, titled "Football rules in town once known for hoops," is only half about basketball while the other half describes football's ascension, it's good to see this town's history of hoops get some press.

Whenever someone asks me about Griz basketball in comparison to football or tells me this is a football town and basketball will never make it, I always counter with something very similar to the lead of the article.
This was a basketball town 25 years ago. No ifs, no ands, no buts about it.

Missoula may not have been the most feared place on the planet for an opposing college basketball team to visit, but it ranked up there. The courtside student section filled to the gills an hour before tip-off, and thousands of town folk filed in behind them.

The atmosphere was electric. The crowds were both feared and revered by opposing coaches, who often talked about how basketball-savvy the fans here were.

For several years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Grizzly men averaged - averaged, mind you - more people at home basketball games than the current Dahlberg Arena (capacity: 7,500) can even hold. If today's basketball team sold out every single home game, it would still never touch a University of Montana attendance record.

Football, on the other hand?

There was a November day in the late 1970s that stands out, but only as a monument to Missoula's apathy toward Grizzly football back then.

It was the final home game of the regular season. It was cold, snowy, and the wind was howling through the unprotected bleachers at Dornblaser Stadium.

Less than 1,000 people showed up to watch Montana. Imagine that: A Grizzly home football game with more than 90 percent of the seats empty.
I encourage everyone to read the full article, which gives a great depiction of football's ascension in comparison to the fall in basketball. After the jump is one more excerpt, with O'Day describing his hopes for the future of basketball. O'Day on the future of hoops:
But O'Day has made it clear he's prepared to seriously consider returning students to their old courtside section if they prove their interest this season.

In a “turn-back-the-clock” promotion for the season-opener against Colorado State, the students were given back their old seats for one night, and it seemed like old times. A crowd of 6,000 showed up, and spurred the Grizzlies to a 75-39 rollicking runaway.

“I did not believe the Zoo could make that big of a difference, but I believe it today,” says O'Day, who sat in the Zoo when he was a student at UM. “I still have to see it (larger student attendance at games the rest of the season), but I believe if they create an environment, others will follow.”

There is no rule, O'Day says, that a community has to prefer one sport over the other, that Missoula must choose between being a basketball town or a football town.

He believes it can be both.

“I really do,” O'Day says. “I know there are a lot of skeptics, and fans that support one or the other. But with a viable product, I think we can.”

Pictures from The Zoo

There's more pictures after the jump, feel free to email me for higher resolution versions.
Probably the first Griz hoops tailgate in a while.

The Zoo is pretty much full a full hour before gametime.

During the game.

Students spilled over to the upper level.

The start of something new

The shirts are in place. Thanks to everyone who got this off the ground. Now let's have fun.

Tinkle on the crowd tonight

This morning's Missoulian has a great article on the student section. The Kaimin, not so much. They could've run a well-written letter to the editor by AD Jim O'Day but instead the editors discussed it and decided as a consensus to publish "Around the Oval." Well, it's good knowing that Bill Lower would most like to steal Hugh Hefner's identity while Brook Ostahowski would rather be Jennifer Aniston.

Anyway, here's Tinkle on what he hopes to see from the students tonight:
“I hope everybody is just in a frenzy,” Tinkle said. “It would be nice to get as close to that Zoo atmosphere as we can. That gets the rest of the crowd into it. Maybe we can get some folks up out of their seats, making some noise. Hopefully our guys will perform well and make it a real positive start to what could be an exciting season.”

“I know it would be thrilling for them,” Tinkle said of his players. “Matt Martin pulled me aside when he was a freshman and said, ‘Coach, I've heard stories of how this was when you played. A goal of mine is to have this place filled by the time I leave.' I think it would really mean a lot to have that atmosphere we see at so many other colleges with the students on the sideline. I know it would set the tone.”
Tinks also offered some good examples from the past:
Late in Tinkle's career, Weber State brought star player Rico Washington to Dahlberg Arena.

“He was a pretty darn good player,” Tinkle said. “He and one of our forwards, Ossie Young, were kind of getting into it. I went to separate them and we were right in front of The Zoo. (Washington) went to say something and I told him, ‘Listen, you've got to stop right now or I'm going to throw you into the second row. Those are two of my football buddies and I don't think you'll make it out of there alive.'

“He turned and looked and smiled and said, ‘You're right.' ”
If the students put just a little effort into this, they'll get a lot in return.

Kaimin gives 'The Zoo' its due

Today, it was the Kaimin's turn to run an article on UM's resurrected student section. One notable tidbit: O'Day said there are about 375 seats available on the east side, overflow will go to the North side of the second level. 375 seats. We're not going to be needing those. Yeah, we'll be packing those bleachers full. Two, three to a "seat." Fire hazard? Psh. You want a fire hazard? Try 800 disgruntled students stuck in the nosebleeds.

Another thing worth noting, one strong student turnout alone doesn't give us back our seats.
Tinkle, who played for the Grizzlies in the ’80s, during the height of The Zoo, agreed that it would be good to have students back along the court, but cautioned that the decision to move them back there permanently will not be based just on Friday’s turnout.

“They’re going to have to show up, give us the support throughout the rest of the year when they’re in the end zones,” Tinkle said. “And maybe the powers that be will make that decision down the road.”
Seriously though. We gotta cram at least 425-500 in that section. Students, disregard the seats behind you. The area in front of them is not yours and yours alone. Plus, if you're sitting, I swear to God I'll do my best to find someone who will stand directly in front of you. Not a row down. Their ass will be right in your face.

The Zoo gets some exposure

It's mostly stuff we already know but it's good to see this story get played out. Here's the first couple grafs from the article in this morning's Missoulian.

Remember “The Zoo?”

Only if you were born prior to about 1970, or so.

The Zoo was to Montana men's basketball what the Cameron Crazies are to Duke - a raucous student section that made life miserable for visiting teams.

Montana's Zoo peaked during the late 1970s and had all but died by the mid-80s. The east bleachers occupied by The Zoo were replaced by seat-back chairs during the 1998-99 renovation of Dahlberg Arena and the student section was pushed behind the end lines, making way for season-ticket holders.

On Friday, when the Griz open the regular season against Colorado State, The Zoo will return, or at least the students will reclaim their seats on the east side of Dahlberg Arena.
To see the complete letter, the basis for this article, scroll down or click here.

Letter to students from Jim O'Day

This letter is from Athletic Director Jim O'Day regarding fan support for basketball. The following words are all him.

UM Students Return To East Side Seats For CSU Game

A challenge has been issued to the students at The University of Montana. They will return to the east side seats in Dahlberg Arena for Friday night’s game between the Grizzlies and the Rams of Colorado State University. This will be the first time in more than a decade that UM students, cheerleaders, dance team and band will fill those prime seats and floor space across from the team benches.

The entire section will be occupied by UM students… just like it was during the time of Jud Heathcote, Jim Brandenburg, Mike Montgomery, Stew Morrill and Blaine Taylor.

I remind you that this is only an experiment. A final decision will not be made until the season concludes as to whether or not a permanent change is forthcoming. All will be determined by the atmosphere on Friday night – and a continuing emphasis by UM students to back the team in high numbers for the remainder of the 2007-08 men’s basketball season. This is the students’ chance to show they will support the program. If student involvement is noticeable, and there’s a noticeable difference in the excitement level, our athletics administration will have a tough decision ahead.

It’s an ideal time for this experiment. The game will be played on a Friday night; the opponent is a quality Mountain West Conference team with star players; the football team is on the road; it’s the official season opener; and there should be relatively few conflicts. We hope to pack the house. The student gate will open one-half hour earlier for UM students (5:30 p.m.) so they can get their east side, lower level seats. Pizza will served to these early fans, courtesy of President George Dennison.

It’s a time to “Turn Back the Clock” to see if that old energy can be restored. It’s a challenge to the students to return to the glory years of Micheal Ray Richardson, Ken McKenzie, Derrick Pope, Larry Krystkowiak and Wayne Tinkle… when students made a tremendous difference in each and every game… when “The Zoo” was a factor in the final outcome, and caused the opposition to make mistake after mistake. It was a time when the student fans demonstrated their creativity, i.e., reading newspapers during pre-game introduction of the visiting team, studying the opposing players’ habits and standing and screaming in support of the five Grizzly players on the court.

It’s a time to put Dahlberg Arena back on the map as a place where opponents prefer not to play, but the home team prospers because of its home court advantage. I would also hope that it returns as a venue where students line up early outside the building to get the best available seats in the house to cheer their beloved Griz basketball team to victory.

Together, let’s see if we can make this a positive experience for the Griz basketball program. It should be a special night to remember.


Jim O’Day
Director of Athletics
The University of Montana

Shirt redesign

Working on a shirt redesign. Once a design is nailed down, I'll pass it along to the marketing department who's working trying to line up a sponsor willing to fund a 1000 shirts. Shirt needs to be white now.

This would include UM logo on the top of the back. In place of where 'Stand' used to be. Colors aren't quite right but you get the idea.

Another option:

This one came in from a friend:


New (final?) version of hoops shirt.

Another version:

Possibly with a Griz paw on one sleeve and a UM logo on the other.

Thoughts on Griz hoops shirts?

The Griz basketball program needs some shirts. Just about every single other student section does it. Sorry, those plain 'UM' shirts just aren't going to cut it.

With that, here is a very rough draft of a basic design, any suggestions are welcome.

I know the quote is dumb and cheesy, that's the point.

Seriously though, let me know in the comments what you think.

UPDATE: Matt, not quite the verticle eyechart look -- that can get confusing -- but something a little similar.

The Zoo could be coming back

The first Griz basketball game I attended was in the fall of '05 against Stanford. Since then I've been obsessed. Like nerds and World of Warcraft obsessed. Everyone else, not so much. The game was unbelievable. It was like playing a basketball game inside a packed Metrodome. You know, like it was when Kirby played. Those who filled Dahlberg that night showed that Griz fans are some of the best in the country -- when they're motivated.

Since then, there hasn't been a game where the crowd -- and the student section especially -- has reached the same excitement level. Outside of a few select games,  the '05-'06 season was disappointing from an atmosphere perspective. The team played great but fans didn't come in earnest until the meaningless regular season finale against NAU. I didn't get it. After football season and the Stanford upset, I thought obsessive insane fans were the norm out here. That wasn't the case for hoops.

Turns out it wasn't always this way. Hoops used to be big, real big. Bigger than football. The students used to stand in the courtside seats, not sit in the baseline bleachers. The frenzied pack of undergrads was dubbed "The Zoo." Since then, the students were moved and "The Zoo" disappeared along with the overwhelming enthusiasm for the basketball program.

Well, The Zoo may be on it's way back. This comes from Griz basketball head coach Wayne Tinkle:
We are planning on putting them there for the CSU game, and IF there is a great showing we’ll entertain the idea of putting them there for the MSU game. We really need to make a push for the students to show up in droves in order to influence the administration. I believe the lack of student participation has severely declined since the late 80’s…due to multiple factors. I know that we coach’s are working hard to make it exciting now the fans need to buy in and stir up the frenzy!
It's tough not to look ahead to a time when the students are back where they belong. However, UM Athletic Director Jim O'Day points out some big issues that may prevent a permanent move.
We have many issues to consider first, such as hearing from those who pay higher prices to sit there, and what to do about the media tables … or more importantly, what to do about the signage for the corporate sponsors. Where can we put them? Also, we have to look at court space for adding additional media benches on the west side if such a decision is made… to make sure we have enough room for the teams. We are looking at all avenues --- and may only be able to do it for one game, if at all, this year, as an experiment.
Oh no, not this again, right? Just like all the roadblocks preventing a move to the FBS, there's financial stuff with this too. Well, don't fret too much, O'Day seems to be a bit more enthused about this idea.
As a former member of “The Zoo” while in college, I know how special that was… and if we do it and the students are challenged to fill the seats and create atmosphere, we’d have to look at a permanent situation if it made a difference. If we took such a gamble, I would only hope that the students would respond in force… to demonstrate interest for men’s basketball.
So it's all up to those it benefits the most. Let's do this students.

The Zoo really needs to step up its game

While stumbling around Youtube looking for clips on a JuCo commit I came across this video of yet another small school with much better fans than us. It's really kind of sad.

I'm not sure what the Montana alternative would be on this. Odds are it'd include rodeo and/or country music. I mean I really wish our school was as intense as this — as long as it did not include any square dancing or cowboyness.

Lady Griz hoping they break nationwide trend

It's really hard for anyone, a UM fan especially, to imagine a scenario where the 25th ranked Lady Griz don't roll through this conference tournament. The Lady Griz are far above the rest of the conference, right?

Well, that doesn't mean they can't lose. Kellis Robinett, whose coverage of Big Sky hoops has been excellent this year, points to what other dominant teams have done in their respective conference tournaments.
Three Division I teams — Duke, Uconn, Tennessee — went into their respective conference tournaments without a conference loss, and one team (Ohio State) only had one conference loss. All of those teams, however, were upset in their tourney semifinals.
However, he does point out that "The Zoo" may be very good at aiding this Lady Griz team:
One thing that will make the task of taking out the Griz so daunting is the crowd factor. This season, Montana women's basketball nearly outdrew the men's team's crowds. The Lady Griz average just about 4,000 per game, and they are fans who know when to cheer, when not to, what to yell and how loud to yell it.
The complete article offers some good insight and opinion. One opinion LG fans may not agree with: he thinks the MVP award should've gone to Idaho State's Natalie Doma, not Mandy Morales. He also has an interesting take on Missoula.

Welcome to the Zoo

Throughout the year, I'd always been a bit disappointed at the student sections' inability to really get going and affect games. It's just frustrating that many students fail to realize that in college basketball, the fans probably have a bigger impact on the game than in any other sport. Saturday night was not one of those games where I walked away wishing the students did more.

This is from a Kellis Robinett article in the Idaho State Journal:
Late in the game, with Montana surging back against Idaho State, the crowd at Dahlberg Arena became a legitimate distraction to the Bengals. That might sound a little odd considering Idaho State spent much of its preseason playing at Illinois, Marquette, BYU and Oregon. But on one possession John Ofoegbu held onto the ball without worry while the shot clock expired.

“When they made their run, the crowd definitely got back into it,” Schroeder said. “The atmosphere definitely changed, and it was hard to communicate.”
It was good to see the Dahlberg crowd finish the men's season on a high note. Lets hope it not only carries over into the Lady Griz playoff run, but also into next season.

It could be us

This is the scene from a high school (my alma mater) basketball game on Bainbridge Island, WA. Yeah, a high school game. Seriously, why can't we have hoops fans that are anywhere close to this? It's in a 2,000 seat gym on an island with a population of around 20,000.

Sure, it helps that the player in the foreground is Gonzaga commit Steven Gray and the team is ranked #1 in WA 3A ball but you think we could be somewhere near half as spirited as these guys. Come on, we're I-A college hoops and we can stand and cheer for an entire game?

An important point is that when I went to school at BHS, only two years ago, the atmosphere was not even close to what is pictured here. Hopefully the UM crowd can turn it around and transform Dahlberg into a place as intimidating as the tiny Paski Gym on Bainbridge.

Interesting note: one of the BHS's biggest hoops fans and a friend of mine may be coming to UM. I really hope he does seeing as it only takes a couple people to inspire the rest.

Lets start next Saturday with the 'white-out' and really turn Dahlberg into a place teams hate to play. Lets bring back The Zoo.

Shades of 'The Zoo'

Last night's game sucked but there were a couple positives, one of which was the improvement of the environment inside Dahlbergh Arena. The fans at the game were some of the best I've seen all year and the Montana Kaimin has an article containing a lot of good quotes about the raucous student section.

From PSU head coach Ken Bone:
“It’s hard to win on the road,” he said. “Let alone win on the road here at the University of Montana.”

“First and foremost, they’re good,” Bone said of the Grizzlies. “Second of all, usually there’s a really great crowd here. If the crowd really gets fired up it’s like the sixth man approach.”

“They’re fun,” he said. “There’s some nut up here that yells and screams and thinks he’s funny. They’re fun and they’re great, that’s what college basketball’s about. I wish we had crowds like this.”
From Anthony Washington:
“I like the crowd (in Missoula),” said Vikings senior center Anthony Washington. “No offense to our fans at Portland State, but I wish we had more of a presence.”

“I think for the opponents it can make some of them frustrated,” he added. “Especially the freshmen that have never heard anything like that before, but for the most part you block it out.”
From Juma Kamara:
“They’re just regular old fans,” he said. For Kamara it was the first time in his career that he had won in Missoula.

“It’s a nice environment for basketball,” Kamara said. “Especially in this conference, to me it’s like the best gym in the conference – nice crowd, nice everything.”
From Griz head coach Wayne Tinkle:
“Well it’s great,” he said. “Once we hit some shots and we started showing some hustle, they rewarded us by cheering and making some noise. That’s awesome, but we can’t wait for them to get us going. We need to get ourselves going.”

“Hopefully we can come out Saturday night and we’ll have even a bigger crowd.”
This team really thrives when Dahlberg is loud. The more students that come and make noise, the better this team will do.