Montana State University

Mountains and Minds


The go-to team October 12, 2011 by Phillip Luebke • Published 10/12/11

Bobcat Quarterback Club leadership is key to stadium renovation campaign success
On a frigid, windswept day in late November, members of a jubilant Montana State University Bobcat football team hoisted the Great Divide Trophy over their heads, a result of a dramatic 21-16 victory over the Montana Grizzlies. The road victory, which earned MSU a share of the Big Sky Conference title, capped a season that many say was one of the most exciting in Bobcat history.

Just six weeks later, another MSU team completed an accomplishment that will also go down in MSU athletic history--the successful campaign to raise $10 million to enlarge Bobcat Stadium. In just 180 days an effort called the EZ Campaign that was led by MSU President Waded Cruzado and the MSU Foundation raised $6 million, matched by $4 million in future athletic revenues, to upgrade and enlarge the MSU stadium.

Cruzado said the project might not have been possible without another talented squad--the Bobcat Quarterback Club.

"This group of supporters led the charge, walked the walk, and led by example, helping the professionals in the MSU Foundation meet and surpass every fundraising goal that was set out for them," Cruzado said.

There was no doubt the group was key to the campaign. The first quarter-million dollar commitment toward the initiative came from a member of the Quarterback Club less than an hour into the initial fundraising period, and of the $6 million in private funds raised for the project, club members personally contributed more than $4.4 million.

But Quarterback Club members did more than get out their checkbooks. Throughout the summer of 2010 and into the fall, the board of the BQC worked tirelessly. Outside of the public spotlight they spoke with friends and family. They networked. They met with the foundation every Tuesday to report on progress and discuss strategy.

The level of involvement by the BQC leadership is even more impressive when considering the membership-based club wasn't really built for multimillion-dollar, "boots on the ground" fundraising.

The genesis of the Bobcat Quarterback Club grew out of an idea from Bozeman businessman and 'Cat fan Rick Ogle. Ogle is a former NFL player as well as a Bozeman native who is the son of Bill Ogle, a former Bobcat basketball player. As Ogle looked around the country at other top-notch football programs, he saw something that he thought could work at MSU, football booster clubs. So he recruited a handful of former MSU football players and past presidents of the Bobcat Club (MSU's all-sports booster club, whose primary focus is funding scholarships for student-athletes) and in early 2000 the Bobcat Quarterback Club was formed, the first of seven sport-specific clubs at MSU.

The BQC has had some ups and downs through the years (the football team was 0-11 the first year of the club's existence), but overall Ogle said the experience and impact of the club has been "totally positive." In addition to member contributions to the EZ Campaign, the club has provided about $2 million to Bobcat football over the past decade. In that time, MSU has beat the Griz four times, claimed a Big Sky Conference championship four times and hosted two NCAA Football Championship playoff games.

Fielding a championship-caliber football program is expensive. Doing so in Bozeman, Mont., is even more so. MSU head football coach Rob Ash explains that recruiting is key to competing at the top level, and when you live in a state with a population of less than a million people, you have to sometimes go out of state to find elite talent. If you're a football coach at MSU, that equates to a lot of airline miles and recruiting expenses that may be higher than for other teams competing at your level.

"Let's say you're an FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) program like Villanova out in Philadelphia or William and Mary or James Madison or one of those schools out east somewhere. Those schools can get out and drive to 99 percent of the high schools that they want to visit," Ash said. "(Recruits) can drive in for official visits. (Coaches) can drive out for their recruiting visits."

The subsidy from the Quarterback Club allows the MSU coaching staff to fly to places like Texas, California, Washington and Oregon to see recruits and bring recruits from out of state in on official visits.

"We really couldn't afford to recruit out of state like we do without the help of the Quarterback Club," Ash said.

Another big expense is the digital video equipment and computer systems that are used for game preparation and player instruction. Like most technology, obsolescence sets in quickly and the equipment has to be upgraded every two to three years.

MSU Athletics Director Peter Fields concurred.

"As a whole, that organization provides assistance to our coaching staff in areas such as technology and recruiting, and also serves as a positive outreach group throughout Montana," Fields said.

The BQC has about 250 members, roughly 90 of whom live in the Bozeman area. The rest are spread throughout Montana and beyond. Chapters are formed in any community with 10 or more members. Currently the club has chapters in Bozeman, Billings, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Missoula and Kalispell.

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In addition to being geographically dispersed, club members come from a broad spectrum of backgrounds. There are lawyers, artists, accountants, architects, restaurateurs and real estate agents. Many are alumni of MSU, but not all. Some played football for the Bobcats, while others have never worn a football helmet and pads in their life. Benefits for members include weekly briefings from Ash during the season, the BQC tailgate party before every home game, updates on recruiting and spring ball, and an annual golf outing and banquet. Members also get exclusive university-licensed Quarterback Club gear.

Members of the Quarterback Club also are expected to be members of the Bobcat Club, and cannot decrease their level of giving to that organization. A number of the founding members of the Bobcat Quarterback Club emphasized that this was an important tenet from the beginning. They didn't want the extra funding for the football program to take away from support for student-athlete scholarships.

Doug Alexander, president of Story Distributing Co. and one of the founding members of the BQC, saw the club as an opportunity to improve the overall quality of the program and make MSU more competitive on a national basis, to improve the game day experience and to help supplement the football program's expenses where the university could not.

"I wanted to be part of a program that helps student athletes gain a great education at a great university and prepare them for the future," Alexander said.

Tom White is a financial planner who played on the Bobcats' 1984 national championship team.

"I have a debt of gratitude for the scholarship I received and just the sheer enjoyment of going to college at Montana State University and playing football for the Bobcats," he said.

For Jim Bos, an architect who grew up in Bozeman and vividly remembers going to football games at Gatton Field with his brother when they were kids, serving on the board was one way of repaying the university that gave him the ability to do what he has done for a profession.

The motivation for Brian Loucks, a Certified Public Accountant and a 1964 graduate of the College of Business, was knowing that he could help make a difference.

"I sincerely think joining the BQC is one of the most important things an individual can do to make a positive impact on the program," Loucks said." The funds we provide are one of the main keys to our success."

After seeing what they are capable of, the BQC leadership is looking ahead. They'd like to bring more structure and formality to their organization, and recast themselves as more than just hard-core football fans and MSU boosters.

"We've made some really neat changes over the years," said board member Phil Schneider, a Bozeman business owner and former Bobcat football player. "We're going forth with the idea of starting an (endowment fund) in addition to the immediate funds that are necessary to help the football program."

According to club president Larry Aasheim, also a Bozeman businessman, the Champions Council is another new development. The council consists of former presidents of the club and members who have donated $25,000 or more to MSU football over a five-year period. Aasheim said that members of the Champions Council will be "investors, ambassadors and advocates" and provide the "boots on the ground" volunteer support in future fundraising campaigns.

And Bobcat football? It should come as no surprise that the BQC members think the future looks bright for the program, too.

"We are winning championships on the field, recruiting outstanding student athletes, building a program with high school athletes, hosting playoff games and adding 5,000 seats to our stadium," Aasheim said. "Bobcat football is the best it has been for many years and positioned to establish itself as the premier program in Montana, the Big Sky Conference and a national contender on an annual basis." ■