BOZEMAN — Two of the only unfinished parts of the Bobcat Athletic Complex are among Leon Costello’s favorites.
One of three hydrotherapy pools in the BAC was being constructed on Friday, when Montana State hosted the BAC’s grand opening. In the Bob Sletten Atrium, dozens of hook-like slots pepper the east wall. That wall will soon be occupied by football helmets from each of Montana’s football-playing high schools.
“The state provides us with so much. We have a lot of fans that are all over the state,” Costello, MSU’s athletic director, told reporters on Friday afternoon. “This is a way to show our connection with the state of Montana.”
Thousands of those fans are in Bozeman for MSU’s homecoming. School administrators hoped the BAC’s grand opening would happen more than a month ago, right before the MSU football team’s Gold Rush game. For a “second-best option,” as Costello described it, this weekend is a good one.
“It's great to finally be in here to be able to show it off to everybody,” Costello said. “As we're inviting people back to campus for our annual homecoming festivities, it’s really neat that this grand opening gets to be a part of that.”
The BAC is the biggest part of Phase 1 of MSU’s 20-year facilities plan. More than 500 donors contributed to the $18 million used to construct the 40,000-square-foot building that sits a handful of yards away from Bobcat Stadium’s north end zone.
The facility, which mainly serves the football team, was originally scheduled to be ready by June. Right as MSU was set to begin construction, the coronavirus pandemic hit. The new target date for the grand opening was August, shortly before the fall sports season began.
Another delay pushed the opening to Sept. 11 for the Gold Rush game against Drake. The football team was able to use the BAC by then, but the grand opening was again rescheduled in another month.
“They were dealing with the same issues that everybody's dealing with in the country: supply-chain issues, it was delivery issues, it was all those things that we experience now,” Costello said. “I’ve got to give a shout out to everybody that worked on this project because to be at this point right now is pretty amazing.”
Costello gave a tour of the BAC to media members Friday shortly before the grand opening ceremony. He didn’t say for sure, but he “heard” Dennis Erickson would be there, he said. Erickson played quarterback at MSU and briefly coached there, as well as Billings Central, before beginning a decades-long coaching career at the college and NFL levels.
Across the atrium from the helmet wall is the weight room, another one of Costello’s favorite features of the BAC. A wall of donor names sits just across the helmet wall and below a staircase to the second floor.
The Chuck Karnop Hydrotherapy Suite is separated by a glass wall from the training area. Just down the hall is the fueling station, or the place where athletes can grab food and drinks. Greeting people who enter that area is the Brawl of the Wild trophy, which the Bobcats have owned since 2016.
The last downstairs area Costello showed was the spacious, spiffy football locker room.
“The former student-athletes are maybe a little bit jealous, but my message to them is, ‘You helped us get here. You being here and you having the success you did helped us get to this point,’” Costello said. “For the (current) student-athletes, we can tell them, ‘Look, the horizon is the limit.’”
The second floor of the two-story building features football coach offices, team meeting rooms and the Quarterback Club Team Room, where press conferences, film sessions and other large gatherings have and will be held. The football team’s offices, weight room, fueling station and other areas were in Brick Breeden Fieldhouse before the BAC.
“We were in tight quarters when we were over in the Fieldhouse, and we were fighting for time with other programs,” Costello said. “We were using probably three different buildings for football just to do their operations, so their operations were really segmented. Now them being all together, it just feels like they're a more cohesive unit.”
Costello emphasized that the BAC will help every member of MSU athletics, not just the football team.
“Having the dual space will allow our student-athletes to be able to work out at better times,” he said. “We don't want anybody having to get up at five o'clock to lift or lift till nine o'clock at night. In these spaces, we'll be able to help them do that.”
When MSU’s facilities plan was unveiled in 2017, MSU’s then-head football coach Jeff Choate said, “There’s 14.7 million reasons on the other side of the mountains why we’re doing this.”
Choate was not-so-subtly referring to Montana’s master facilities plan, highlighted by the $14 million, 50,000-square foot Washington-Grizzly Champions Center. The building was completed mere weeks after MSU’s facilities announcement.
The high school helmet wall is more than a connection to the state. It’s a recruiting tool, as is the rest of the BAC. The last thing MSU wants is to fall behind the rival on the other side of the mountains.
“At the end of the day, we're a Division I program,” Costello said. “We want to win conference championships and compete for national championships. (With) these facilities, now we'll be able to do that for all of our sports, not just football.”