On Friday, University of Montana Director of Strategic Communications Dave Kuntz appeared on KGVO’s Talk Back show. He discussed the start of the semester and answered several questions from callers. One caller was disappointed that the Montana Grizzlies football team cancelled their season last year, but Kuntz said that decision was not solely up to UM.

“The University is in the conference with eight to twelve other schools and it was a collective decision,” Kuntz said. “Football and the athletics culture at the University is a big part of that student experience. We were all hurting from losing that season last year, but it was a collective decision to keep the community safe. We couldn’t be happier to have the football season back. It was a full house at the game on Saturday. I hope the businesses did really well. I know the few that I participated in before and after the game seemed like they were doing great. We just can’t wait to have the season back to normal.”

Kuntz was also asked about how much money the city of Missoula lost by not having a full slate of Griz football games last year.

“The University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research has that data,” Kuntz said. “I don’t have that at the top of my mind, but anecdotally, those businesses that are walkable downtown are usually packed and I know the hotels do well too. We know that the football stadium itself becomes the seventh biggest city in Montana on those Saturday afternoons.”

Kuntz acknowledged the increase in COVID-19 cases in Missoula and he said the university is doing everything it can to keep the community safe.

“Last year was really tough on us and this year is that transition back to normal,” Kuntz said. “Obviously, we still have the pandemic cranking and we know the data the health department released yesterday. We are doing everything we can to continue these events safely so we can be good partners with the community.”

According to Kuntz, the homecoming parade was postponed this year, which he said is a huge disappointment.

“There were a lot of factors at play, but the biggest was the construction on the Bear Tracks Bridge formerly known as the Higgins Bridge,” Kuntz said. “It just wasn’t ready to go to hold the weight in time for the parade. The alumni association had to make the tough call, but it was the right call for public safety.”

Kuntz said COVID-19 vaccines are available for all UM students that want to get the shot.

“We have had dozens of students over the past couple of weeks get the vaccine,” Kuntz said. “That is on top of the hundreds and probably thousands that we saw in the spring. That is what is different from this fall and last fall, we have the vaccine. It is accessible on campus. We know it works. Students can walk across campus, have that shot in 15 minutes, and be back in class. We are spending a lot of time and effort communicating that to students. We have been really pleased. Ultimately, we know, above all, students want to remain in person. They don’t want to go back and finish the semester in mom and dad’s basement. They are doing whatever they can to do that and we have been really impressed with how they have stepped up so far.”

Kuntz said UM made a commitment to its students that they are going to remain in person for the entire fall semester. As of now, masks are required in all indoor spaces at the University.

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