Scott Stricklin Talks Football Scheduling

One more piece of Mississippi State's football future was put into place Tuesday, as a series with North Carolina State was announced for 2020-21. If that seems pretty far into the future for any Bulldog to think, well, think again. Because football scheduling for the coming ten or so seasons is very much on Scott Stricklin's to-do list this summer.

Today's announcement of a home-and-home with an Atlantic Coast Conference peer has the Bulldogs visiting Raleigh for the first game; then North Carolina State coming to Scott Field in 2021. This series, just like the previously-announced series with Arizona later in the same decade, is in keeping with the Southeastern Conference's new mandate. Which is, that all league members are to book games against programs from the other ‘Big 5' conferences annually beginning in 2016.

Speaking with media today, Stricklin said work continues on meeting the mandate and doing so on time. He also said that the 2015 Bulldog schedule, the last before the mandate goes into effect, has been finalized but an announcement will wait.

In an unscheduled press talk, Stricklin was asked about scheduling plans and problems; as well as for an update on finishing renovation and expansion of Davis Wade Stadium in time for the 2014 season opener. The athletic director began by mentioning difficulty with the 2018 schedule and proceeded as follows:

Scott Stricklin: "2018 has been a little more challenging because of people far in advance on these schedules. I thought it was interesting, the ACC followed a similar pattern to what the SEC is doing (eight game league schedules and mandatory Big 5 game), and they're not starting it until ‘17. So we're having to start in '16 which kind of tightens that window for us a little bit in trying to find somebody. We'll figure something out, we're talking to our league Office too and letting them know what we're doing, so they can see if they've talked to people; if they can kind of steer people our way too."

What was the interest with North Carolina State? "I think I mentioned this when we scheduled Arizona. We actually put together a chart and put all 51 schools that are in the other five conferences, plus Notre Dame, in one of those ‘pools'. That first list which is ones you'd like to schedule every single year, I'm not going to tell you who they are! We didn't get much response for many of those people. The people in that middle column, which is people we should consider, that's where we ended up having a lot of conversations. The people in that third column which were the people we would probably just as soon not play because they are equal quality to the really top teams in our league, we reached out to them but none of them followed up either."

"But the ones we seemed to have more conversations with were the people in the middle. N.C. State was one of those. They're a quality program, they've had a lot of success, they've probably had some inconsistency similar to us from time to time. The last time we played them was in a bowl game (1993 Peach Bowl). And we may see them between now and then in a bowl game because the SEC and ACC have several matchups. But it just makes sense, two land grant schools. We didn't set out to call the land grants but it make some sense from that standpoint, a lot of similar connections between the two schools."

That sounds like a marketing opportunity for somebody? "Yep!"

Is it more difficult to schedule '16-'17 than say Oklahoma State or in the past because the other school knows you have to, that you're up against the 8-ball (with the mandate)? "I don't know, I haven't sensed that, though that's a fair question. We could probably go and do a neutral site in one of those years. But if we do two of those, we're going to have a year where we only have six home games. And our goal is to have seven home games. So we want the best of all worlds, we want the seven home games and maintain balance in our schedule; and then also be able to play these games we have taking care of for our league."

Is 2015 completed? "'15 is done. We're ready to go on that. I think the league wants us all to announce together and my understanding is there's a couple of schools that are trying to move some non-conference games around. We've been done for quite a while."

With the SEC committing to a long-term rotation, has that simplified contacting people and knowing what you need to do? "Yeah, it's going to be much better. The challenge we've run into is everybody had all these non-conference games; and then the league was trying to drop a conference schedule on top of it. So it caused some adjustments and having to move some stuff around."

"If you had some years planned-out from a league perspective you would know what weekends you can go and drop non-conference games. I think the challenge is going to be, they're going to give us four or six years for conference and a lot of us have already scheduled non-conference games in those windows. But we'll at least have some time to try to maneuver through some of that."

With two series set up in the next decade, but still openings the next four-five years, you are scheduling along dual tracks these days? "Yeah, we are. Right now our focus is getting '16, '17, '18, '19 with schools from the schools from the power conferences lined up. And we've got the rest of our non-conference in pretty good shape through '16, maybe '17. But then it's going to be turning back and trying to fill in the rest of those non-conference schedules starting around '18 or '19, and you'd love to have conference schedules in place for the reason I just said. So you're not scheduling a game and having the league drop a conference game on that same weekend, then having to go back and change it."

With demands by the SEC Network and broadcast partners is there any threat or opportunity to delay or buy-out some scheduled non-conference games? "I hope not. Just because that's not good business and it's expensive. I'm hopeful the league and ESPN will work with us to minimize that as much as possible."

Since the Big 5 game mandate was announced has there been any talk of ‘flexing' on the 2016 deadline? "You know, that's not the approach we're taking. We're going to try to get it done. And if we get to that point where we have to come up with some alternative we'll do that. But we want to be able to comply with that requirement."

With conferences and realignments and contracts, you have to make the schedules but you can't know if a few years from now the paradigm could change suddenly again? "Yeah, it's interesting. If you follow the headlines, it's an interesting time in college athletics. With what's going on out in Oakland (players suing the NCAA to be paid) and everything else. The conference thing is actually the quietest piece of what we've had going on here recently, which is kind of nice!"

"But it's just part of it, we have to figure it out and work our way through it."

Are you holding to August 20 as the ‘turnover' date for the stadium project? "Yeah, activity seems to have picked up just from my casual observance. They've got the video board going in starting yesterday and have already made pretty good progress on it. As you walk through some of the finished spaces they have drywall up and paint on the wall, some places have cabinets and countertops and light fixtures and rest rooms with toilets, which is obviously a plus. So there's a lot of work that you can't see form the outside that is going on inside. They're going to have a hectic eight weeks or so but we're going to have it done. And it's going to be a lot of fun when people show up August 30."

How many premium seats remain? "We're sold out of our premium seats other than a handful of East side club seats available. We're sold out of all the new premium on the North side, all the skyboxes, the Scoreboard Club. We have some Gridiron passes left, I think we're about 60% sold on that. And we kind of anticipated that would be the last thing to go. But we sold 15 of those yesterday so it continues to have some interest."

"It's interesting, we haven't had a season ticket sell campaign in about three years because we've been sold out of season tickets. I think starting this month our marketing team has got a campaign to sell season tickets, it will be the first time we've done it in a number of years. Which is good. We've got two or three thousand tickets we could sell and we've already set a record. So we're kind of in new territory."

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