BOZEMAN — When is it athletics’ turn? That has been the lingering question in recent years as Montana State University flourished under the dynamic direction of President Waded Cruzado.
The first hint came in June 2016, when Cruzado hired Leon Costello as athletic director, signaling an end to business as usual in the department.
But Friday might well be remembered as the day the answer came in full, when Costello laid out publicly an ambitious 20-year athletic-facilities master plan as part of an overall “Our Heritage, Our Future” strategic plan recently produced by the department.
“The time is now,” Costello said during a press conference behind the north end zone at Bobcat Stadium, echoing the plan’s primary talking point.
“From my perspective, ever since I’ve gotten here we’ve had great support from President Cruzado, who’s done an unbelievable job with everything she’s done at the university. For us, it’s ‘when is it athletics’ turn?' It is right now. We’ve seen great growth, students on campus have great opportunities, and we want those same opportunities here in athletics.
"We feel like we have a little catching up to do."
Not coincidentally, Costello and second-year football coach Jeff Choate announced the vision on the eve of the Bobcats’ Homecoming game against No. 20 Weber State, which is shaping up to be one of the program’s biggest non-Cat/Griz showdowns in several years.
The 14-page “Athletic Masterplan” document features no fewer than nine significant focal points, leading off with moving the football program out of Brick Breeden Fieldhouse into a state-of-the-art, $16 million self-contained complex behind the stadium’s north end zone. Costello and Choate both said the completion of Phase 1 would enhance football recruiting and open more room in the fieldhouse for an expanded and renovated Academic Excellence Center as well as offer more locker-room space for other sports.
“There’s 14.7 million reasons on the other side of the mountains why we’re doing this,” Choate said, referring to facilities projects at the University of Montana. “Our student-athletes all deserve that first-class experience as well.
“I’m a team player, and I believe this is the project that creates the greatest good for all student-athletes. … What we recruit to is our strengths. There’s the lifestyle piece here in the Gallatin Valley, a tremendous, robust university, the outdoor lifestyle. But what we recruit for is the game-day atmosphere. It’s an unbelievable atmosphere, one of best in the Big Sky and one of best in the country. But we don’t take recruits to the academic center because that’s not going to be the prize you show them. That’s something we need to be able to do.”
Moving football into the stadium would have, as Costello put it, “a domino effect”.
A second priority then becomes the construction of a vast indoor facility in what is now Brick Breeden’s south parking lot, between the fieldhouse and across Kagy Boulevard from the stadium. Indoor track would move there, giving the department more flexibility to create a more intimate environment in a 1958 all-purpose building that gives fans a distant feel.
“We could do some neat thing with stands and make it more intimate for basketball games, for rodeo, for any event,” Costello said, also noting the opportunity to add second-level suites and hospitality space. “Coach Choate mentioned the game-day environment. We can have that same thing over at Brick Breeden in the winter, but need space to do it.”
Costello said the time frame for completion of these projects will depend on the success of fundraising that’s already begun. One of the champions for the project is former MSU quarterback Dennis Erickson, now retired after a distinguished head coaching career that included Big Sky titles at Idaho, national championships at Miami (Fla.) and tenures with the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks of the NFL.
Erickson, who lives in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, stood in the back of the room wearing blue jeans and a blue-and-white MSU T-shirt.
“He’s seen first-hand what athletic facilities can do for an athletics program and also a university,” Costello said of Erickson, who was part of similar facilities’ renaissances at Oregon State and Arizona State.
“The excitement is there. We’ve had some great success and want to be able to continue that. This is how we continue that. This is how we continue to recruit the best student-athletes and can train them to be the best. This is how we get things done.”
Said Choate: “Let’s get the shovel in the ground.”