If early evidence is any indication, Mississippi State fans didn’t respond well to the grace period legislation given to them by the Southeastern Conference regarding cowbell use at Bulldog football games.
The league office has informed MSU officials that the school will be fined, but Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin says the exact dollar amount on the punishment will be determined by how State fans behave at the final two home games of the season.
“If the fan base doesn’t think this is as important as I think it is – then I guess that’ll be our answer, as well,” Stricklin said Monday. “Fans need to understand the future of the cowbell literally rests in their hands.”
Stricklin, who said he wasn’t surprised at the action when he was notified, has sent out an e-mail to all Bulldog Club members and season ticket holders this week warning fans that SEC officials are prepared to go back to the old ban on artificial noisemakers starting in 2011.
“We’ve had one season to change the habits of many decades,” Stricklin said. “I don’t honestly believe it’s been a lack of education issue but more of an execution issue.”
On June 4, the league’s athletic directors and university presidents voted on the final day of Southeastern Conference spring meetings in Destin, Fla., to approve a temporary change to the policy on artificial noisemaker rule.
“Violation of the policy would result in fines levied against the university,” MSU president Mark Keenum said on June 4. “We have work ahead to educate our fans and alumni about the new arrangement. It represents the beginning of a new chapter in support of our great cowbell tradition.”
Stricklin emphasized since the day after the vote this new rule is a one-year trial and possible fine structures or the old ban could be put into place if the rule is broken in 2010.
Unfortunately for State fans, it appears that day has arrived.
“We need to do better and the good news is we’ve got two more home games to prove we can handle this the right way,” Stricklin said.
“There’s a lot of people at Mississippi State where this tradition means a lot to them and I’m one of them.”
The SEC’s fine structure set in August, relegated the first offense to $5,000 while the second penalty being $25,000 and every fine beyond that being $50,000. According to the wording of the regulation, a single institution can’t be fined more than $130,000 per season.
SEC officials will not comment on the details of State’s violation until after the completion of the season.
Stricklin told the Starkville Daily News Monday night he fully expects another discussion at the next SEC athletic directors’ meeting this spring to include bringing back the ban on cowbells, forcing MSU officials to rethink stadium security in the hope of stopping future fines.
“An important point to make here to our fans is if the ban comes back, the fines structure sticks continues,” Stricklin said. “And at that point, we’ve got evaluate how to assess what went wrong in the past from a security standpoint. That’s a situation none of us from school officials to fans to security people want to be in at all.”
Once the new cowbell legislation was put in place, Mississippi State’s athletic marketing department immediately began to put a “Ring Responsibly” campaign that has included using ad paid for by Ford Motor Company on the top right of the video board of Davis-Wade Stadium to let fans know when to “ring” and “yell” at specific points during a game.
The amended legislation allows MSU fans to ring cowbells at Davis Wade Stadium during timeouts, before the game, after a score or during halftime.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive told the Clarion-Ledger Monday evening the eventual fine penalty is not the main concern of the league office.
“I know there’s been a focus, to some degree, on financial penalties but that focus is really misplaced,” Slive said. “The real focus here should be on whether or not the legislation will be continued, so that State fans can bring their cowbells into the stadium years beyond this one.”
While the SEC office has not yet announced the exact dollar amount of the fines, the violations stem from home games on Sept. 9 against Auburn and on Sept. 25 against Georgia.
The Bulldogs host two more SEC games this season by hosting Kentucky this Saturday and Arkansas on Nov. 20.
“We knew full well this would be an educational experience and that adherence to the policy would not be immediate,” Stricklin said on Sept. 15 in his weekly message on State’s athletic website.
“We even have a constant message in the upper right corner of the board so there should be no question when it is OK to ring. But we can do better, especially our students. And ultimately, we must do better if we are to maintain this tradition.”
The artificial noisemaker policy only applies to SEC games and therefore Mississippi State will not be evaluated for the three non-conference home games against Memphis, Alcorn State and Alabama-Birmingham.