SEC Cowbell Rule Means Nothing

Am I missing something here? For decades there has been a Southeastern Conference rule prohibiting artificial noisemakers being used by fans during games. Most notably, the rule has been ignored at Mississippi State, where the supporters of the Bulldogs clapper away with their cowbells. Now the SEC is saying, "Okay, but you'd better behave."

Or what?

Or the SEC will go back to the old rule, which has not been enforced. Ever.

In 1980, Alabama went to Jackson to play Mississippi State. The Crimson Tide had a 28-game winning streak. The Bulldogs upset Alabama, 6-3.

Now, no one would suggest that Alabama lost the game because of cowbells. Alabama lost the game because the Crimson Tide played terribly. But in the final moments, Bama was at the Mississippi State goalline. Crimson Tide coaches were frantically yelling at Albama quarterback Don Jacobs to throw the ball out of bounds to stop the clock, but Jacobs couldn't hear the command because of cowbells. (There was no legal grounding in football in those days.)

During that final drive, Alabama coaches appealed to the referee (who was considered to have an Auburn bias -- which is to say anti-Alabama bias -- because he was the father-in-law of former Auburn quarterback Pat Sullivan) to stop the game until the cowbells were silenced. He didn't stop the game. Again, that cannot be blamed on Alabama's loss, but it was interesting that the official never worked another Alabama game.

At the SEC spring meeting in Destin this week, Commissioner Mike Slive announced that Mississippi State fans will be able to ring their cowbells, as long as they do so "at appropriate times." Slive said the league approved a one-year provision to its artificial noisemakers rule that will allow MSU fans to ring their cowbells.

"We'll provide the opportunity for the use of cowbells at Mississippi State so long as they're used at the appropriate times, which would be the same appropriate times we use other artificial noisemakers," Slive said. "But it has not changed our underlying artificial noisemaker rules.

"It was recognition of Mississippi State's tradition and only at their stadium and only at the times the institution would be able to use artificial noisemakers. When the game is in play they can't be used, and it is a one-year provision to be re-visited by the league next year. If it's successful, it will be continued and, if it doesn't work, then the league will reconsider going back to its original legislation."

In other words, the SEC has made the crime legal, therefore no crime. And in the unlikely event the provision is rescinded after next year (when Mississippi State fans will use their cowbells exactly as they have been using them for decades), no one will notice. The league will continue to ignore the rule violation.

Dr. Mark Keenum, president of Mississippi State, has a provincial view of the issue. He said that college football has "rich traditions," and added, "There is not a more unique example of that tradition than the cowbell at Mississippi State. I appreciate the willingness of the SEC's athletic directors and presidents to work with us to find a way to preserve a great tradition and still remain within the framework of SEC rules and regulations."

The best quote, though, came from State Athletics Director Scott Stricklin. "We want to ring responsibly," he said. "We want to have some fun with it, but we want to adhere to the rule."

In the grand scheme of things, does it matter?

Obviously, not to Alabama. The Crimson Tide beats Mississippi State with a regularity that makes it a college tradition. Bama leads the series with the Bulldogs by 74-17-3.

But what is music to Mississippi State ears is irritating to serious football fans.

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