MSU Fall Football Practice (copy)

Montana State head coach Jeff Choate watches practice on Aug. 2, 2019, at the MSU practice fields.

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Jeff Choate still thinks Montana State will play football this spring. It’s just not going to be a six-game conference schedule like the Big Sky announced in November.

On Friday, the Bobcats announced they are backing out of the conference’s planned season. But MSU’s head coach left the door open for the possibility of playing a game or two since his team is planning on practicing anyway.

When the fall football season was called off because Big Sky teams couldn’t afford required weekly COVID-19 testing, the league pivoted to the spring. But that fell through for MSU and Montana too because of concerns about athlete safety.

This puts the Bobcats back on track to be prepared for the 2021 fall season. MSU athletic director Leon Costello said the 21-month layoff from live competition from December 2019 until September 2021 would be harmful for athletes. So the Bobcats plan to be flexible with the potential of scheduling an opponent or two this spring.

“We definitely want to give our student-athletes some live competition. We definitely think we need that,” Costello said. “... Their bodies are going to need that as we move into a fall season.”

In his five years as head coach, Choate has often expressed little to no enthusiasm about spring practices because of weather-related challenges. His top priority remains to keep players healthy. So that means a game likely wouldn’t happen until the later part of the spring if it happens at all.

Choate said he’s given MSU administration five Saturday dates of when he feels the team could be ready to compete against an opponent based on the earliest and latest preparation could take place.

“When’s it going to be realistic for us to get a three-week block of practice in prior to competing?” Choate said. “I think that’s really what it amounts to. I think a month is ideal. ... I do think we can probably get ready in three weeks.”

While games are still possible, Choate emphasized that opting out of the conference schedule gives the program more control of its situation. There has been lots of uncertainty for players in the program since last March. It’s worn players out, Choate said.

Now, the Bobcats have an opportunity to both prepare for the upcoming fall season as close to normal as possible with the possibility of salvaging a game or two, as well.

“We’ll have some level of spring football at the very least,” Choate said.

Indoor facility a priority

Friday’s news underscored MSU’s desire for an indoor practice facility. A significant reason why the Bobcats backed out of the spring season was because they didn’t feel they’d have adequate practices to prepare for the season.

There were other factors, too, but an indoor facility would change the dynamic.

When the MSU athletic department unveiled its athletics master plan in September 2017, an indoor practice facility was included.

However, the Bobcats first focused on a building to house the football team’s locker room, offices and weight room next to Bobcat Stadium. This was done with other programs in mind because once the football team moves to the $18 million Bobcat Athletic Complex, those other teams will have more space in Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. The BAC is expected to be completed by August.

“The indoor has always been an important part of (the master plan) because of the conditions and what we’re going to be facing here at the end of the fall and then into the winter and spring months,” Costello said. “We know we deal with it. We deal with it every single year. It’s a high priority and something we’re going to have to take a look at.”

Choate said the process to eventually build an indoor facility is already underway. He said it would be a “game-changer” for the athletic department and a “no-brainer” for Bozeman as a whole because youth sports programs may be able to use it too.

“I laughingly say, you know why we run the ball so much here? Because we don’t have anywhere to practice throwing it,” Choate said. “So the fact that we can go inside and our guys get an opportunity to hone their skills and work on their fundamentals and their techniques. Whether it’s football student-athletes or I think even more importantly our community at large is in desperate need of a space like this.”

Choate speaks about Boise State head coaching candidacy

Friday marked Choate’s first press conference since he interviewed to be Boise State’s head coach.

The Chronicle reported Boise State athletic director Jeramiah Dickey traveled to Bozeman to meet with Choate, who said Friday “I don’t think there’s any secrets, certainly not in Bozeman.” BSU chose Oregon defensive coordinator Andy Avalos instead. Choate said there’s “a million reasons things go the way they do.”

Choate was Boise State’s running backs coach for three years and then linebackers coach for three years, serving as a special teams coordinator across that span from 2006-11.

Choate acknowledged that he interviewed for the job. However, he said he remains “excited and grateful” to remain at MSU. He’s happy he’s in Bozeman with his family, including his son and MSU linebacker Jory Choate.

“I mean it’s always flattering when you get the opportunity to be considered for a job like Boise State,” Choate said. “There’s a lot of reasons why this is still the best place for me, outside of the unfinished business we have on the football field. … It wasn’t my time, and as I stated, unfinished business. I’m excited to get after that in the near future.”

Paul Schwedelson can be reached at pschwedelson@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.

This article originally ran on bozemandailychronicle.com.

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