Bulldog Sports Have “Gone To Another Level”

He did not actually come back to campus with the money. For that matter Scott Stricklin is just as curious as anyone why the Southeastern Conference will send a real, ink-on-paper check to Mississippi State rather than direct deposit, armored car, gold bullion, etc. “That’s a good question! It gets mailed to us in a few weeks.”

That envelope will contain an old-fashioned check showing state-of-the-industry numbers. Mississippi State is receiving $31 million (and yes, some change) as its share of 2014-15 SEC revenues. Record revenues of course.

And, arriving at a time Bulldog sports is enjoying record revenues of its own making. Football season ticket sales are well over 46,000 and ultimately could reach 50,000 given interest in the 2015 Bulldogs. Donors are investing like never before in facilities and ancillaries, including sports which rarely get headlines. Aggressive marketing work opens up fresh avenues of outside support.

So yes, a state of State statement is bound to be upbeat heading into a short summer stretch. Which made early June a prime time to talk with Stricklin, who just began his sixth year directing Bulldog athletics. He was with his peers and league officials last week in Destin for the spring meeting, where Greg Sankey was presented for the first formal occasion as only the eighth SEC commissioner since the 1932 founding.

Even if everyone knew the popular Sankey was taking over, effective this month, “That’s exciting news,” said Stricklin.

Today is Part 1 of a two-day series, beginning with what Mississippi State will be doing with the new revenue. Hint: the check will have the same numbers as when mailed but the account will be a little lighter already.

DB: How much of this year’s payout is already spent? “We build that into next year’s budget. We’re fortunate to be at a time and place where we have a lot of things we’re wanting to do, and a way to afford them. One of the big things we’re doing is the miscellaneous expense related to full cost of attendance.”

DB: Explain that for the fans’ benefit, as it seems Mississippi State will do well in this? “The traditional scholarship we provide our full scholarship athletes includes tuition, room, board, and books. The federal government requires every institution’s financial aid office to post a ‘full cost of attendance’. Meaning, what a student would expect to pay attending your school including tuition, room, board and books, plus personals and miscellaneous expenses.”

”Well, our scholarship in athletics has never included those last two items. If you remember, a few years ago we tried to do this $2,000 stipend that got passed. A bunch of small schools over-rode that vote and took it off the books. Now with the litigation going on we’re doing the full cost of attendance. But, we can’t set a level price point. Because it’s basically a monopolistic practice, fixing costs among competitors.”

“So what we’ve chosen to do is look at the miscellaneous expense item each of the financial aid offices come up with, under the direction of the Department of Education, and use that as a figure we can give out. And every school is different. If a school’s tuition is $40,000 a year you might ask your financial aid office to lower that (personal/miscellaneous figure) as much as they can within guidelines. And schools that have lower tuition may want to add to it so that attending that school looks like it has more value.”

“My sense is university recruiting and financial aid offices have used whatever variability they have to market their school to students. It was never intended to be used as athletics is now using it, but the numbers are what they are. We’re going to be setting aside about $1.4 million dollars this year extra, to provide the miscellaneous expense item of the full cost of attendance.”

DB: I’m sure, sure no coaches will use the higher number at their schools when recruiting teen-agers who don’t know what cost of living difference can be! “Oh, absolutely that’s going to happen. But also that plays into the fact we’re not all the same. Every campus is different, we all offer different courses of study and stadiums and communities. We offer different miscellaneous expense in cost of attendance. It’s one of the things that makes us different and allows the prospective student or student-athlete to factor that into where they go to school.”

DB: It sounds like besides the athletes who get the extra aid, the biggest beneficiaries will be campus and community businesses? “Yeah. And we talk about improving the value of experience of our student-athletes on our campus. Putting some money in their account they can use however they want, that’s great. It’s what we should want to do.”

DB: What else will the new revenue go toward? “We have added or are continuing to add to a lot of positions that directly impact our student-athletes. We hired a full-time nutritionist last year; we’re adding a graduate assistant nutritionist this year. For the first time we’re adding a full-time life skills coordinator to help prepare our student-athletes for when they leave here.”

“We’re actually working with Dave Ramsey’s organization to provide fiscal education for all our student-athletes. We’re not going to tell them how to spend their money. We want to make sure they understand the basics of finance, how to open a checking account, how to prepare a budget, all that kind of stuff.”

“We’ve already sent some money back on campus through the State Pride program, about $750,000 back to the University. Our student fee money we’ve received through the years, we’ve been weaning ourselves off. We’re actually going to zero this year. We’re not going to take any student fee money. That will be able to be used on campus to help the University at large. Sid Salter’s group has a really good, far-reaching marketing and branding campaign coming this fall for the whole University. We’re contributing some money from athletics to help pay for that.”

“And we’ve been pretty aggressive with attracting and retaining quality staff. That’s something that directly touches our student-athletes. Some of the decisions we’ve made the past few months related to that. It’s good to know we have a way to pay for it now.”

DB: Along that line, not so long ago the salaries for, say Coach Dan Mullen and his two coordinators would have been MSU’s entire athletic operating budget. But that’s the price of business and keeping good coaches? “It is. And you’d like to think at some point that levels off. One thing that is really interesting about our jump was in SEC money, our total tuition bill this year is going to approach $10 million with the miscellaneous expenses.”

“We pay for every athlete. The University doesn’t waive it, we actually have to write a check to pay for that tuition. It just happens to be about the increase in the SEC money this year. You could say that is going to go directly to what our student-athletes have. Obviously that frees up some other money we can use for facilities, some of the projects we currently have going. We have a little bit of debt on the books, this will allow us to pay down some of that if we want to.”

”The baseball stadium is kind of on a separate track, that’s going to self-fund. And we’ve got funding for our golf project. The softball stadium, from a cash flow standpoint this might help us with that project. But we need to do a soccer clubhouse. Eventually we need to do some indoor tennis courts. We need to enhance some fan areas at the Coliseum and maybe even the exterior. I’d like to think we could start doing some planning on that now we think we have a revenue stream coming in that can help support that.”

DB: What was the Orange Bowl revenue provided the SEC by State’s participation, after the $2 million taken out for expenses? “It was pretty significant, it was over $20 million. The Orange Bowl has a contract with the SEC every time a SEC team is there and it’s not a Playoff game. This year it’s a semifinal game. Any time it’s not and a SEC team is in it, it will make a pretty substantial check to the SEC.”

“We actually brought in more to the SEC bowl distribution than Alabama did this year. And they played in the Playoff, the Orange Bowl check was greater.”

Tomorrow: Part II will address football ticket sales, filling the new hole in the 2016 schedule, the planned replacement of Polk-Dement Stadium, and other items.

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