George Ferguson: Montana State is dominating the Cat-Griz rivalry off the field as much as it is on it right now, maybe even more so

From The Fringe…

BOZEMAN – I’m fine. Really, I’m just fine.

Aside from being pretty cold, no matter how well dressed I was, I emerged from the Brawl of the Wild without a scratch. That’s because I don’t play, so while the game, for Griz Nation, was atrocious, fans really don’t have much choice but to move on.

By the time I got to my car to head home, I was just glad to get warm. Other than that, the Griz got destroyed. The Cats demolished them in every phase, from coaching on down. 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 that.”

But, as I reflect on this latest installment of the rivalry between Montana and Montana State, what really concerns me, as a Griz fan, and Montana alumni, isn’t how one-sided the rivalry is on the field right now, (and it is because the Cats have won five of the last six), no my worries are about what’s happening off the field.

Take a look around MSU’s campus these days and you’ll see it. It’s packed. It’s full, it’s busy, and there are construction cranes at all times. In fact, I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t construction going on campus in the last decade. I remember those days at UM as well, but they were a long, long time ago now.

Montana State is beaming with new buildings, and you know what that means, Montana State is bulging with cash. And the university is flushing with cash because it’s flushing 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 that way, but that, too, was a long time ago.

Of course, MSU has the advantage because of how popular STEM is these days, and it should be. But, MSU hasn’t just been the “Ag” or “Rodeo” school for a long time now. No, whether it’s math and science, engineering, or yes, even lots of business and liberal arts programs, MSU is a university that is not specialized or regionalized any longer. Instead, MSU has something for everyone and that, combined with it’s top-notch academic reputation, has made it a school seemingly everyone wants to attend.

Now, before I go any further, I don’t give a damn what anyone says, the University of Montana is still a great school. It has great programs, and it’s still considered one of the best small college academic institutions in the west. Don’t take my word for it, look it up in Forbes or anywhere else that ranks universities for their academics. Montana is still a great place with great programs but, comparing it to what’s going on at MSU, the fact is UM doesn’t have enough programs, and it doesn’t have enough growth and progress to keep up with what’s happening in Bozeman, And that’s a painful fact to acknowledge.

Academically, I’m extremely proud of my university, but what I’m not proud of is it’s become so stagnant, it’s become such a complacent university, and it feels like there is no vision there anymore. Step foot on MSU’s campus, however, and you see the vision pretty clearly.

And whether any of us want to admit it or not, everything I just said translates to athletics, and at the top of that is football.

Montana State, in part, is dominating Montana on the football field because the program is part of the vision at MSU off the field. The program is directly benefiting from what MSU wants to do, and that’s growing, 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 first, after seeing the BAC the Griz no longer hold a recruiting advantage in that regard anymore, because the Cats have a football facility on par for sure. And facilities improvements will continue to happen at MSU. I hear rumblings of the Cats beginning to secure the funding for an Indoor Practice Facility, and it’s the kind the Griz are not going to build. The Griz announced an IPF last year, but it’s a much smaller, and stripped down version of the one they really wish they could build. In Bozeman, it will probably take longer, but it sounds as if they’re going to build the one that I am going to end up wishing Montana was able to build.

Look, Montana has always done great with athletic facilities. No matter how many times other schools, including MSU expand and improve their stadiums, it won’t be as nice as Washington-Grizzly Stadium. It’s the premier stadium in the FCS, but even it needs a face lift. The press and private boxes lag behind many of its rivals. But for the fans, and for the players, it’s still the best, and for the most part, so is Dahlberg Arena, especially now that basketball and volleyball are getting facilities to match what the football team has.

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

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

That isn’t a coincidence.

Listen, the fan in me will always be proud of everything Montana has accomplished, and no matter what fans say, it will take a long time for MSU to catch the Griz in the win column as it relates to the Brawl of the Wild. In fact, I’m confident, I won’t be alive to see that happen, or even come close.

But, you also can’t live in the past. I’m living in the present, and what I saw in my 24 hours last weekend in Bozeman is a total butt-kicking by MSU in every single aspect of this rivalry. From enrollment, to progress, to enthusiasm and, ultimately, on the football field, MSU is completely dominating UM right now, and the powers that be in Missoula better really figure out how to counter it, or the butt-kickings are gonna become a Much more frequent, because as a university and as a football program, MSU is here to stay and their vision extends way into the future, and it shows.