BOZEMAN — Everyone in the world has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and Montana State athletic director Leon Costello reflected on what the last year was like for Bobcat athletics.
“When it all came crashing down we all had to take a deep breath and say, ‘Where do we go from here?’” Costello said about his first thoughts when the 2020 Big Sky Conference basketball tournaments were canceled.
The toughest part during the pandemic for Costello was making sure there was communication with all the athletes on campus about what exactly was going to happen during the pandemic. The school didn’t have all the answers to provide for the athletes. Also, quite a few athletes were stuck in their rooms to be quarantined.
“It was hard to watch student-athletes go through that," he said. "We had some student-athletes in excess of 50 days in quarantine. Whether you’re doing your schoolwork, you’re not seeing your professors, you’re not seeing your coaches, you talk to them on the phone or virtually on a computer, you’re not working out, you’re trying to work out in your room -- it’s just really, really tough.”
Implementing the COVID-19 protocols wasn’t easy, but once athletes got into the building it became like a routine.
“Once they got into this building, watching them train and practice and even compete during basketball games and indoor track meets I thought ran fairly smoothly," the MSU AD said. "Once you followed all the protocols, it was hard implementing them, but once they were in and I think after a few weeks people got used to them and it became more like a routine.”
It wasn't just protocols the athletic department had to navigate. Earlier this year, the Bobcats had the tough task of conducting a search to replace Jeff Choate as head football coach.
“It was (tough). Normally when you’re doing a search you sit down and you really want to get to know somebody, you’re sitting face to face, and everything we did during that time frame was virtual for the most part. We did end up having a few (interviews) on campus but we were still following protocols at that time, so it was still very, very different on how we interacted," said Costello, who ultimately hired Brent Vigen to succeed Choate.
As for the new TV deal with ESPN, Costello is thrilled about having some of the conference’s biggest games on the network and the future possibilities that it could lead to, such as College GameDay potentially coming to Bozeman.
“You’re paying on ESPN, but I think you’re getting so much more with what ESPN offers than what you were getting on Pluto," Costello said. "Your $5.99 goes a lot further than what people are thinking about right now.”
On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that college athletes are allowed education benefits such as receiving compensation for internships or to receive payments for education-related items. Here’s what Costello had to say about when and if players are able to benefit from their name, image and likeness in future.
“I’m all for it," he said. "I think student-athletes should be able, when they come on campus, they should be able to work, they should be able to act like normal students. (Montana State has) some partnerships with some departments here on campus to try and help them throughout the business school and the marketing departments to really help them, educate them and show them how they can do these things.”
Like the rest of Bobcat fans, Costello has been waiting 15 months for the Gold Rush football game on Sept. 11 when MSU takes on Drake in its first football game since 2019.
“I truly feel with everybody that I’ve talked to that Gold Rush is going to feel like a national championship game," he said. "People have been kind of denied their football access for so long. That day is going to be great because, 1, we will be able to honor our American patriots on Sept. 11. We’ll be opening up a brand-new facility on that day, let fans be able to take to tours and end it with a great football game with a packed house. You almost feel like a kid again.”
Costello had this to say to Bobcat Nation before the interview was over:
“We have some of the best fans in the country and they always come through when we need them and we know that," he said. "For us, it’s just saying thank you and now we get to give back to them and we get to get back to a little bit of normal and they get to do the things on campus that they love to do, which is, 1, come and cheer on the Bobcats and support all of our athletes and coaches and hopefully continue to win championships and that’s what’s we’re all about.”