Q&A: Mississippi State's John Cohen (Part Two)

John Cohen

Staff Writer

Mississippi State has announced a big facility upgrade is coming with the announcement earlier this year that there are plans to renovate Humphrey Coliseum. Starkville Daily News MSU beat reporter Joel Coleman sat down with MSU director of athletics John Cohen earlier this week to discuss the renovation of the home of the basketball teams, as well as get other thoughts on the state of MSU hoops, such as the recent low attendance at men’s games.

SDN: It was announced earlier this year that there are plans to renovate Humphrey Coliseum. No timeline on that has been shared yet, but is there a timeline that you have in mind to complete that project?

Cohen: "One of the reasons we initiated that campaign is to start fundraising for that project. It will not be cheap. It will be an expensive project, but very worthwhile.

"We want to take care of our fans. We want to offer premium opportunities. We want to enhance every part of the game day experience, but we also want to enhance the experience for our student-athletes.
"I feel like it’s going to follow a very similar path that baseball did. I believe we announced in the summer of 2014 (about the new Dudy Noble Field). We’re just completing the project right now. I would really like to see this follow that path.

"There are so many things that have to happen when you work in a state university to make sure that you’re doing everything the right way. These things take a little bit of time. But this is necessary. It’s extremely important and we’re going to get it done."

SDN: Whenever construction does start, is it something that could impact play for a season at the Humphrey Coliseum?

Cohen: "I don’t think it’s going to impact play. I think we’re going to be able to play through the construction.

"One of the things that’s different about the Hump than the other facilities we’ve worked on is that several architects have looked specifically at our facility and said, 'Now listen, the seating bowl in this place is really good and the acoustics are really loud. Be very, very careful because what you have is really good.’ We want to enhance what we have in terms of the seating bowl, but we don’t want to lose some of the really good characteristics of the facility.

"I think if there’s a worry about this, that’s my worry. I want to maintain this great home-court advantage. I believe last year we went 36-2 in that facility in basketball between the men’s and women’s teams. We want to keep that home court.

"At the same time, we know that we have to enhance some things in that facility."

SDN: One of the hot-button topics regarding MSU basketball has been the low attendance at men’s games. Do you have any concerns there?

Cohen: "I think there are a lot of factors in that, but what’s really hard to look at – and this isn’t the most crucial thing – but November and December basketball, traditionally, especially in the Southeastern region of the United States, if you can get actual attendance around the Southeast – people are still in a football mindset.

"To me, we have two championship-level basketball teams. The thing I’ve always admired about our fans is our fans have to travel a little bit. Our students don’t have to travel, but in a time of year where they’re not on campus or they’re in finals or they’re about to take finals, there’s a little bit of an issue with our students. Our students have been very, very supportive, but our fans have to dig a little deeper than everybody else’s fans.

"I grew up in a town, Tuscaloosa. There’s 100,000 people that live in Tuscaloosa and the county, I think there’s 200-plus-thousand people. You just look at the sheer numbers and it’s a little bit easier for people.

"Our folks, and I don’t think we’d have it any other way, our folks have to dig a little deeper. They have to have a little bit more of a chip on their shoulder. They have to drive a further distance. I have tremendous admiration for our folks that come up from Jackson or come up from the coast or come from Tupelo or come from Meridian. They have to want it a little bit more.

"I think you have to be very, very careful when you’re asking really loyal fans, especially in a month like December where there are so many activities going on in their lives. Things are going on with family, with church, with school, with your business and with everything. It’s really difficult to get a large group of people.

"I do want to challenge our fans and say you’ve got really special basketball going on at Humphrey Coliseum. We want you to be a part of it, but I think when conference play rolls around and we get into January, I know that our Bulldog supporters will make that drive and support these teams."

(Editor's Note: This is the second part of a three-part series revolving around the conversation between Starkville Daily News Mississippi State beat writer Joel Coleman and Mississippi State Athletic Director John Cohen. The series continues later this week.)