George Ferguson: Montana State dominates the Cat-Griz rivalry off the field as much as it does on it, maybe even more so

From the edge…

BOZEMAN – I’m fine. Really, I’m fine.

Aside from being pretty cold, no matter how well dressed I was, I came out of the Brawl of the Wild unscathed. That’s because I don’t play, and while the game was atrocious for Griz Nation, the fans really have no choice but to move on.

When I got to my car to drive home I was just glad to be warm. Otherwise, the griz was destroyed. The Cats ripped them down at every stage, from coaching to relegation. It was a dismantling in the Cat Griz game like none of us have ever seen before.

And in the immortal words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about it.”

But as I pondered that last bit of the Montana vs. Montana State rivalry, what really worries me as a Griz fan and Montana alumni isn’t how one-sided the rivalry is on the field right now (and it’s because the Cats have won five of the last six), no, my concern is what’s happening off the field.

Look around the MSU campus these days and you’ll see. It is full. It’s full, there’s a lot going on and there are always construction cranes. In fact, I can’t remember a time in the last ten years that there wasn’t construction on campus. I also remember those days at UM, but they were a long, long time ago now.

The state of Montana is brimming with new buildings and you know what that means, the state of Montana is brimming with cash. And the university is cash because it’s swamped with students. Yes, right now MSU is the IT school in Montana with over 17,000 students on its main campus. I remember when Montana was like this, but that was a long time ago, too.

Of course, MSU has the advantage that STEM is so popular these days, and it should be. But MSU isn’t just the “Ag” or “Rodeo” school anymore. No, whether it’s math and science, engineering, or yes, even many business and humanities, MSU is a university that is no longer specialized or regionalized. Instead, MSU has something for everyone, and that, combined with its world-class academic reputation, has made it a school that everyone seems to want to attend.

Well, before I go any further, I don’t care what anyone says, the University of Montana is still a great school. It has great programs and is still considered one of the best small academic colleges in the West. Don’t take my word for it, look it up in Forbes or anywhere else that ranks universities by their academics. Montana is still a great place with great programs, but when you compare it to what’s going on at MSU, UM doesn’t have enough programs and it doesn’t have enough growth and progression to keep up with what’s in Bozeman happens. and that’s a painful fact to admit.

Academically I’m very proud of my university, but what I’m not proud of is that it has become so stagnant, has become such a complacent university and it feels like there is no vision there anymore. However, when you enter MSU’s campus, you see the vision quite clearly.

And whether any of us want to admit it or not, everything I just said applies to athletics, and football comes first.

The state of Montana dominates Montana on the football field in part because the program is part of MSU’s vision off the field. The program benefits directly from what MSU wants to do, and that means growing and growing and growing.

I walked through the Bobcat Athletic Center in Bozeman last Friday, and while the Champions Center at UM is great, and it was the first time since I’ve seen the BAC, the Griz no longer have a recruitment advantage in that regard because the Cats have a football attachment at eye level. And facilities continue to improve at MSU. I’m hearing rumors of the Cats beginning to secure funding for an indoor practice facility, and it’s the kind the Griz won’t be building. The Griz announced an IPF last year, but it’s a much smaller and stripped down version of the one they could really like to build. It’ll probably take longer in Bozeman, but it sounds like they’re building what I’ll end up wishing Montana could build.

You see, Montana has always done well with sports facilities. No matter how many times other schools, including MSU, expand and improve their stadiums, it won’t be as beautiful as Washington-Grizzly Stadium. It’s FCS’ first stadium, but even it needs a facelift. The press and private boxes lag behind many of their competitors. But for the fans and the players, it’s still the best, and for the most part, the Dahlberg Arena, especially now that basketball and volleyball are getting facilities to rival the soccer team.

However, remodeling old spaces only gets you so far, and at MSU the vision is different. At MSU, they’re building new facilities and it’s impressive. Again, in my humble opinion, it’s vision versus what appears to be a lack of vision. And that vision means winning on the field and in the arenas.

Just look at the last six months. In March, the Bobcats won the Big Sky Conference basketball titles, which meant appearances in March Madness. And on Saturday, they destroyed the Grizzlies to earn a share of the Big Sky football championship on a day when no less was College Gameday in town.

This is no coincidence.

Listen, the fan in me will always be proud of everything Montana has accomplished, and no matter what the fans say, it’s going to be a long time before MSU catches the griz in the win column when it comes to Brawl of the Wild . In fact, I’m confident that I won’t experience that again, or even come close to experiencing it.

But you can’t live in the past either. I live in the present and what I saw in my 24 hours in Bozeman last weekend is a total kick ass from MSU in every single aspect of this rivalry. From enrollment to progression to excitement and ultimately on the football field, MSU is completely dominating UM right now, and the powers that be in Missoula had better figure out how to counter that or kicking butts will be at a much more common rate, because than University and as a football program, MSU is here to stay, and its vision stretches far into the future, and it shows.