MISSOULA — Leon Costello wants Montana State to be a safe and inclusive space.
That was apparent during a media conference call over Zoom on Tuesday afternoon as the Bobcats' athletic director addressed the death of George Floyd, who was killed while in Minneapolis Police Department custody, among several other topics. Protests moved into their seventh day across the country, and Costello’s comments came two days after a large, peaceful gathering that included Montana State student-athletes.
“We want to take our words and put them into actions,” Costello said on the call. “Of course we’re going to stand for something, and our words matter, but what people are really going to know about us is the actions we take. That’s going to be driven by what our student-athletes need in terms of support.”
Listening and taking careful action was reiterated by Costello several times. He wants the Student Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) as well as coaches to be a major force in the conversations and modifications moving forward. In essence, he wants to empower the students to help create the changes they would like to see.
While he didn't have specifics on what that might look like at this time and with much of the Bobcat student athletes spread out across the country and world, some of those conversations are expected to happen once classes at Montana State are back in session.
Costello also referred to the athletic department’s five-year plan, which began in 2017, as one place to potentially make adjustments. He mentioned that he had reached out to student-athlete leaders.
“We want to hear their voices, and we want to know how we can support them in an environment that allows them to safely achieve their goals,” Costello said. “What we had in our strategic plan three years ago might be a little different today. We want to go back and refresh some of those views and some of those thoughts with the help of our student athletes and our coaches.
“I think the biggest thing is education and support.”
With that in mind, he also implores Montana State student-athletes to say what they wish, how they would like to say it.
“I think we have a lot of coaches and athletes that are their own person and obviously they have the freedom to speak, to think, to do what they want,” Costello said. “I think as far as our core values and how we operate we’ve had a conversation about aligning ourselves with the organization and the greater good that we are fortunate to be a part of each and every day.”
So far, so good on workouts
Montana State student-athletes have been able to access workout facilities for the past two days, and Costello said it had gone about as well as it possibly could.
Student-athletes go through a check-in process that includes temperature checks, have limited access to what they can do in the facilities, and there are a multitude of cleaning and sanitation guidelines. Face coverings and social distancing are also part of the directives.
“I think after a two-day review we feel really good and very comfortable about the protocols we have put in place,” Costello said. “We understand they’re pretty restrictive right now, and that’s all by design. One, we need to protect the student-athletes that are coming into the facility. We need to protect the staff that’s currently in the facility, and we need to protect anyone else our student athletes or staff will come into contact with.”
Out-of-state student-athletes returning to Bozeman will have to go through a 10-day quarantine before being allowed in any athletic facility. This is despite the 14-day mandatory quarantine for out-of-state visitors to Montana expiring on June 1.
Despite the precautions, dealing with COVID-19 on campus is something Montana State is preparing for as an eventuality.
“At some point, we know we’re going to have to deal with it,” Costello said. “Whether it’s a student on campus or whether it’s a student-athlete coming back … if somebody does come back (with a positive test), the groups are a small size right now, when we go back to contact tracing, we know who they’ve been with in our facilities.”
He added: "If the worst thing happens, it’s locking down anything and anybody, no ifs, ands or buts about it. That’s why at the beginning we were very strategic on the groups we put together: Who was working out together, which staff members were working with them so we know if we have to take somebody or a group offline we could do that fairly efficiently and not affect the other groups.”
TV, sponsorships in the fall
Depending on how the fall college sports season turns out, there are a variety of different challenges that could arise.
One of the biggest is advertising and sponsorships, especially with advertisements such as signs and ads that decorate any football stadium. Will sponsors pay as much money if stadiums are half full?
It's certainly a question being asked.
“I’m concerned about what do our sponsorships look like, people are buying, whether it be signage, or whatever sponsorship, however they support us if there’s half the people in the stands, what does that look like,” Costello said. “I think TV plays a part in that. If we can only have half the people in our stands, is a new model warranted for us to look at as far as TV goes because I think our product then becomes more valuable for a media entity to put on TV because I think you’re going to have more eyeballs on it.”