BOZEMAN — Leon Costello hears the whispers. He’s not influenced by the screams.
With Montana visiting Montana State on Saturday for the 117th football meeting between age-old rivals, there’s a lot on the line.
The Grizzlies, for one, hope to secure a playoff berth with a victory. The Bobcats, in turn, don’t want to let go of those precious bragging rights and perceived recruiting advantages they earned last year with a 24-17 win in Missoula.
But there’s more at stake than that, which Costello, MSU’s second-year athletic director, acknowledged this week.
Costello and his team of administrators are not two months removed from unveiling an ambitious 20-year facilities master plan that, if realized, would transform the visual and structural makeup of the athletic department.
A victory over the Grizzlies could help springboard fundraising.
“A win this weekend would certainly help. It would certainly get people excited,” Costello said. “Not that they’re not excited right now, but that would definitely take it up a notch. Wins always help, and anytime you can win big games it will certainly help in any initiative that you have, but especially in fundraising.
“I learned last year, just from being around this rivalry for the first time and being involved in it. The phone calls that I received afterwards and the conversations, it was amazing. It was an eye-opener for me.”
Aside from what happens on the football field Saturday, MSU has long been trying to catch up to the Grizzlies in the facilities "race," and that gap widened in September when Montana opened a sparkling new champions center made possible by $14 million worth in private funding.
UM also installed a state of the art video board for basketball games at Dahlberg Arena in late October.
Those additions, of course, are just icing on the cake to Washington-Grizzly Stadium, a gem among football facilities in the FCS.
Earlier this season, MSU football coach Jeff Choate noted the disparity between the Bobcats and the Grizzlies in terms of infrastructure.
“There’s a long and significant book of evidence about investing in football and what it does for the wins and losses of a program,” Choate said. “And all you have to do is look over the hill. In 1985 or whatever it was when they opened Washington-Grizzly, prior to that they had zero national championships. They only had (three) conference championships in the previous 30 years.
“And then they go and build that thing and they’ve played for (seven national championships) and they’ve won two. They’ve obviously been in a situation where they’ve won (15) conference championships and they beat us for 16 straight years or whatever it was. That’s a pretty good close-to-home example of what can happen. And I can rattle off plenty more.”
Based on the renderings, MSU’s facilities plan, which includes nine phases that among other things would renovate Brick Breeden Fieldhouse and Bobcat Stadium and add a palatial indoor practice facility, looks like it would rival anybody in the region once completed. Including Montana.
Costello admitted to there being some “heightened awareness” to what’s gone on at Montana, but he isn’t concerned with matching what the Griz have done or what they might do in the future — even though he said he has heard chirping from MSU boosters and supporters that remind him what UM has and what the Bobcats do not.
Costello has other priorities.
“I don’t want people to think that we’re doing this to keep up with the Joneses,” Costello said. “We’re doing this to support our current student-athletes and continue to recruit and retain quality student-athletes and coaches to put us in a great spot to compete for championships and to educate them and graduate kids.
“A lot of times people get tied up into, ‘Well, they’re doing this so we’ve got to do that.’ We need to look at ourselves and say, ‘What do we need to do to support our student-athletes?’ That’s what we need to focus on.”
Phase 1 of Montana State’s plan, as announced in September, is a priority that Costello said needs to be completed as soon as possible. It calls for the addition of an athletic complex at the north end of the football stadium and renovations to add an academic center on the south end of the fieldhouse.
Costello would not reveal any specific dollar figures with regard to funds that have been raised already, but he did offer an earnest timeline.
“Our goal is that we would love to have pledges in place by next homecoming. In a year. We’d love to be able to do that,” he said. “It’s an ambitious goal, but it’s one that we’re going to continue working on throughout the winter, throughout the spring and summer.
“The response has been outstanding. I think it’s something that people know we’ve needed for a while and they’re just ready to get it started. So this is the first step. Now we’re doing our part in getting meetings set and talking to people, and we’re going to be doing that until we don’t have to anymore.”
Saturday’s game, if it goes in MSU’s favor, could be a jumping-off point.