A Q&A With MSU AD Scott Stricklin

In an exclusive interview with Gene's Page, Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin talks about Mississippi State athletics, current and future.

Would you say that, with the across the board success of MSU athletics, that this is the golden age of MSU athletics' success or, at the very least, the beginning of the golden age of MSU athletics' success?

"I'm not as focused on what is going on right now as I am about what is going to happen down the road. We've had success, especially this year where 11 of our 16 sports made postseason play. While that is good, we still want to get all 16 of our sports in postseason play every year.

"It has been fun to have some success such as the four straight years of going to a bowl by the football program, the baseball program getting back to where we want it to be playing in regionals and to advance to where they were playing for a national championship last year, having women's basketball back to playing in postseason play, women's golf finishing 6th in the nation. We had two women's sports finish in the top-10 in the country, women's golf and indoor women's track and field. I don't know if we have ever had two women's sports finish in the top-10 in the nation before.

"It's great to see all the hard work of our coaches and our student-athletes and the support our fans and our Bulldog Club members give them start to pay off.

"All of that is great but we want more, we want to win consistently. And the great thing about winning consistently is it creates a snowball effect. You can then take that next step which is competing for championships. We have challenges but we have a lot of resources and a lot of strengths."

You mentioned fan support and Bulldog Club support. You also just announced a record number of football season tickets sold. Would you say that right now is the golden age of fan support for Mississippi State athletics?

"We have a record number of Bulldog Club members, over 10,000 members, in addition to the record number of football season tickets.

"I think there are reasons for those things. The popularity of college athletics is at an all-time high for Southeastern Conference athletics. Our enrollment numbers during the last decade has steadily grown. Due to that, we are graduating more alums than ever before. Obviously that helps, but our fans also have done a great job of getting engaged and understanding the role that they play in helping us be successful, whether it is joining the Bulldog Club for $100 a year, which is about $8 a month, or purchasing season tickets. That is very important. People tend to underestimate how important that is but it is critical to our success as is buying season tickets and showing up for the games. Fans play such a critical role in our success.

"And there are also the fans who have the resources that have helped us in significant ways with major gift fundraising. I think, since 2010, we are close to 60 million dollars in gifts outside of Bulldog Club monies or coming from tickets sales. I saw a recent survey among SEC athletic department development offices and the number at the time that was done was among the top half of all SEC schools. And, as you know, we have one of the smaller fanbases, but our fans are stepping up. That has allowed us to build the Mize Pavilion for basketball, the Leo Seal, Jr. complex for football. It's helping us to close up the north endzone of Davis Wade Stadium and do that expansion and renovation. The track and field facility has seen a lot of improvements. That is a donor specific project. We are doing some things in golf. Old Waverly is the new home of Mississippi State golf. We are currently in the process of building a new driving range and short game area for our golf teams. And we are going to build a clubhouse for our teams. From a recruiting standpoint in what Ginger and Clay are trying to do, that will be a huge piece of the puzzle."

What do you think are the reasons for MSU fans to be so supportive of MSU athletics these past few years? Is it the success of the programs or you adding new people in the athletic department to help generate fan support?

"I think it is a combination of both. MSU fans has always been very supportive. I've worked at universities where football was the sport. You engaged with your fans for about four or five months, then you might not see them back on campus until football rolls around again. I've also been at places where it was just football and basketball, so you saw people for seven months. But our fans are engaged in everything. They are around here for 10, 11, even 12 months a year. They just have a connection to Mississippi State, they are not just football fans but basketball and baseball, women's basketball, tennis and even softball. I think there is a loyalty and a pride that Mississippi State fans have for their teams. And obviously, when you win it helps you engage people even more. That's why the winning piece of the equation is so important."

Has the internet played a big factor in the ability to get MSU fans engaged?

"The internet has but it's been more social media, especially in Mississippi where we don't have a lot of major media markets. The ability to reach our fanbase through social media and the ability to develop a connectivity with our fans has been very instrumental to Mississippi State. We also have a lot of young people on our Mississippi State staff, especially in media relations and our marketing group and they do a really great job of engaging our fans.

"And another thing about social media is a lot of our fans end up graduating and moving to other states and social media allows them to maintain a connection and stay engaged. So, I think social media has benefited Mississippi State as much as any school in the nation."

Considering Mississippi State athletics has a smaller budget than almost all of the other schools, won't the SEC Television Network benefit Mississippi State much more than the other SEC schools?

"Really, it is difficult to know how much it will benefit us financially because we don't even know how much it will be and when it will start. In fact, for our new budget, we budgeted 0 new revenue dollars for the SEC Network because so much of that will be determined by how much distribution the network gets, how much they will generate from that distribution. We have been given speculation on how much that could be down the road but we don't have a timetable.

"So, right now, we are not budgeting any new SEC money coming from the network. We are budgeting new money coming from the college playoff and the SEC's new bowl structure. That will help. But our league money has been flat for the last couple of years. That has caused a pinch in our finances. Before expansion our league revenue was going up about a million dollars per year. But I think league expansion is a great thing which I believe will allow us to add some money (down the road) that we can use.

"Due to the SEC revenues being flat, that is why it is so important for Bulldog Club membership to grow. and for fans to continue to buy season tickets."

Are the ads on the football stadium and basketball coliseum video boards as well as on the baseball outfield fence partly due to the flatness of the SEC revenue?

"No, those thoughts were in place before the expansion of the SEC. We have to generate revenue any way that we can. We generated over 60 million dollars (in revenue) this year but it costs a lot of money to run an athletic department in the Southeastern Conference. I guess what I am saying is we aren't in a position to turn our back on any revenue streams. We have to max our revenues."

Some people would say that 60 million dollars is a lot of money but I guess being in the SEC where there are budgets of over 100 million dollars it's not such a big budget.

"I tell people that living in the SEC is like living in a millionaire neighborhood. We have a really nice house but our neighbors have bigger houses. But we can still do our part to win Yard-of-the-Month and have nice things. We just have to find the best way for Mississippi State to compete and win. When you look up at the scoreboard there are no dollar signs up there."

What are things going on right now, building-wise, and what are some things that will be done within the future, let's say within the next 10 years?

"The stadium expansion is being wrapped up right now. The contractor will turn it over to the university on August 20th. We will begin the 100th year of playing football on Scott Field this year. It's going to be a lot of fun putting all the Bulldog fans into the stadium against Southern Miss on August 30th.

"Other things going on, short-term 18 to 24-months, will be getting our golf teams situated at Old Waverly, do our softball/tennis project.

"(Head softball coach) Vann (Stuedeman) has done a great job getting our softball program to three straight regionals. And we need to give her the opportunity to continue to grow her program. Plus, our goal is to host the 2016 SEC Softball Tournament. Because of that, we have to have a grandstand that is better suited for doing that than we currently have."

How much money have you raised for the softball/tennis complex?

"We have raised about 2.5 million dollars but we probably need to raise a little bit more. The softball and tennis projects are a combined project but the softball portion of it is probably more of a priority right now because we need it to host the 2016 tournament."

You mentioned you need a little bit more money to build the softball/tennis project. How much is a little bit more?

"We are still working with our design team to decide how we can do that as efficiently as possible. But we don't want to make it cheap. So, we have to value it correctly."

Would I be correct in saying 5 million dollars would be about the amount you need?

"I would hope that we can do it for less than that."

What are some other things that you want to build within the next few years?

"We want to build a clubhouse for our soccer team at their field. And we need to do some things to dress up the volleyball locker rooms.

"Those are the short team projects. Long-range, which is a 5 to 7-year range, we would like to build our indoor tennis courts there. We have a location, our fourth football practice field which is adjacent to softball and tennis. I would also love to address the concourse area of the Hump, maybe make it more fan-friendly. We are putting in a new video screen in the Hump this summer that will be high definition, which will allow us to do some things that we haven't been able to do in the past. We also need to figure out what we are going to do about updating Dudy Noble."

Obviously, with the success of the baseball team, I'm going to ask more about what are the plans with Dudy Noble. Where do you stand right now cash-wise and what are some things that you are looking at doing?

"Candidly, we haven't made a lot of decisions on what to do. We are still studying it. We have some concepts."

Let's talk about those concepts.

"We aren't ready to talk about them yet because we want to make sure we have as many answers as possible. When we do show them we still won't have all of the answers but we want to use common sense. But I do think, now that the football expansion project is wrapping up, the next major project will relate to Dudy Noble. By major, I mean that it will cost more than 10 to 15 million dollars. And it may cost several million over 10 million dollars. I'm just throwing that number out as a benchmark. It will be a lot of money."

It's not out of the range to say it could cost upwards of 30 to 40 million dollars is it?

"It will be a significant project if we are able to come up with a vision that the people will be excited about and be willing to support. It will have to be something that we are all willing to do collectivity. As an example, there is a sign as you enter Dudy Noble that goes back to 1997 that says the grandstand was done because Mississippi State people banded together and did it the Mississippi State way, which is by showing their support and love for their university. I want to continue that because that is the perfect way to do it.

"I will say that we have listened to people and we are going to try and incorporate it so that it is more of an inviting place for families, making it a place where we retain the traditions. The Left Field Lounge has to be a part of what we do. We have to make sure there is plenty of space for people to walk around and take in the facility but also to watch the game. There are a lot of challenges right now but I'm excited about the possibilities.

Would you say it will be completed within 5 to 7 years?

"Yes, probably 5 to 7 years."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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