"I think there is a group of presidents in the Southeastern Conference that have made the decision that they want to be more involved in the management of the Southeastern Conference. They certainly have that right. In the selection process of the new commissioner, they have made it very plain that the new commissioner reports to the presidents and not the athletic directors, which was basically the way we operated under the regime of the Kramer years.
"Filling the shoes of Roy Kramer's shoes will be very difficult. Then again, I'm not sure anyone will be able to fill them, because of his respect, knowledge, involvement in so many facets of the game. Roy Kramer will go down not as the best commissioner that we have had for finances, but as one of the best commissioners that we've had in protecting the collegiate game because he worked hard to develop championships for all of our student-athletes as well as the welfare of the student-athletes."
How do you see it affecting the jobs of the athletic directors since the power will no longer be with them, but with the presidents?
"I think it is going to be interesting to see how we conduct the business of the Southeastern Conference. We have to let the new commissioner get here and present the plan. For me to say it isn't going to work or work smoothly, I have no knowledge of that. I know how we operated in the past. I think we made some really great decisions for this conference. It wasn't always one that all twelve institutions endorsed wholeheartedly, but the majority rules. When we walked out of the room, we were together. Everybody had a chance to speak their peace.
"Mike Slive is a great guy. We just have to give him a chance to see what his organization will be like."
Let's talk about the cowbell issue. Is there nothing that Mississippi State can do about the cowbells?
"That is a decision that the Task Force will have to wrestle with. That is why we are having the meeting today, to give all the various groups the opportunity to speak. I don't have a perceived plan. I think it is a no-win situation. It doesn't matter what we do. It is not going to please everybody. I do know this: Mississippi State is going to comply with the rules of the Southeastern Conference. How we do that, I don't intend to make that decision. I intend for the Task Force to make a recommendation to the university. Whatever the university endorses is what we will enforce."
Talk a little about the Task Force. What is their job?
"What we are going to do today is give all the constituency groups, the Alumni Association, the Bulldog Club, the Student Association, the president of the university and the head football coach an opportunity to share their thoughts. No decisions have been made on what we will go. I have an audio of cowbells recorded. I took it off the video tapes of when it was the loudest it has ever been. Sure we are going to use that. The questions are when are we going to use it and how we are going to use it. Those decisions have to be made by the university, not by me."
What has the new commissioner told you about the cowbell rule and its penalties?
"I can't answer that question. He and I have had one conversation on the subject. He is not taking office until August the first. To ask Mike Slive to make that decision before he has an opportunity to get here and review is not fair to him. To ask Roy Kramer to make that decision in the last month of his administration is not fair to him. I don't think we will have an interpretation until the middle of August."
Switching gears. There have been folks on my page who have wondered where you were during the Central Mississippi Extravaganza. I have been told you were in North Carolina at the MSU Development Foundation's yearly meeting.
"The president and I were presenting the year-end report to the university annual foundation meeting. Why they scheduled them at the same time I can't answer that question. I didn't set those dates."
Was the Foundation meeting scheduled prior to the Extravaganza meeting?
"It has been on my schedule for a year."
Talk about the Bulldog Club. Isn't the membership up to about 8 thousand members?
"We've had a great year in the Bulldog Club. The reason the membership has increased in the Bulldog Club has been the success of the Calling Program that we worked on during the months of February, March and April. I think we made close to 60,000 phone calls on our behalf. I think we've had roughly 4,000 pledges or contributions through that. Some of those were large and a number of those were small, but those were new people who weren't giving to the Bulldog Club. Our mission now is to find a way to get those people more active and keep them involved. That is going to be a great challenge to us.
"The fund-raising arm of the university for athletics is more important than it has ever been, primarily because of the cost of scholarships. The tuition increase in the last three years has gone up almost 30%. We will exceed 4 million dollars for the student-athletes that go to Mississippi State."
In an interview you did with Greg Ellis of the Tupelo Journal you mentioned that the MSU Athletic Department budget will be about 23 million dollars. Is MSU now getting closer to the top of the pack in the SEC?
"No, they are going out of sight. There are a couple of them (Florida and Tennessee) that are going to have 60 million dollar budgets."
How then can Mississippi State compete with Florida and Tennessee?
"They have the same number athletes that we have. We are just going to outwork them. We are going to outwork them with fewer people."
Do you know all of the athletic budgets of the other universities in the SEC?
Does Mississippi State have the lowest budget in the SEC?
"There are three of us right there together. You have to be careful when you compare budgets. Where do they put this charge? Where do they charge utilities? Who pays for maintenance of facilities and things of that nature. For instance, we probably have a cheaper bus travel budget than any other SEC school. We own a bus. The athletic department owns its own bus. We made an upfront investment because we knew we had to have them. Our rate for renting buses is so low. That is why you see our bus on the road. It is cheaper for us to carry our bus there than it is to rent one when we fly some place. We send a bus to places like Baton Rouge and Auburn to meet the team."
How do you compare to sales of season tickets compared to last season?
"We are about 750 off to where we were last year. I think we have a chance to be at the same mark or a little better than we were last year. I think it was about 36,500 last year."
So you don't think you will reach 41,000?
"I don't think we will reach 41. The challenge is the new upper deck. We still have some mini packs and some family plan tickets. We are now in the phase where we are selling individual game tickets. The Tennessee game and the Arkansas game are moving better than the others."
There is a road directly in the front of the MSU Vet school that has a lot of construction going on on it. Do you know if that road, which is used for gameday traffic, will be ready for the first home game?
"It is a question I can't answer. You are asking the same question that I have been asking every two weeks. There is a hope that that road will be in good shape by the time school starts. The word hope is very loose."
What about the parking fee and the direction of the traffic? Will that stay the same?
"Yeah, we are going to stay with the same parking and traffic. The only thing that is new on that is we have had to make a few adjustments because of handicap parking. Handicap parking the day of any athletic event has become huge. The law provides handicap stickers the opportunity to park as close to the facility as we can put them. It effects what we try to do with our premium priority parking. In the last three years, the handicap parking has more than doubled. On gameday, there are probably in excess of 500 cars that have handicap stickers on them that are not required to have a parking pass, but that we are required to park. That is one of the growing pains that we have to handle."
I know softball coach Kathy Arendsen took the head coaching job at Oregon. Are you close to hiring a new head coach?
"We have a candidate in here today (Thursday) and we have a candidate in tomorrow (Friday). I would hope to be in a position by the middle of next week to announce something. I am excited about the individuals that are interested."
Can you name the individuals that you have interviewed and are interviewing?
"No, I'm not going to discuss names."
Is construction about to start on the new indoor baseball facility?
"We have all the plans and specs done. We haven't started any construction, but we have the concept of the drawing and bid documents ready to go as soon as we get the gift. We don't have the gift in hand."
What about the indoor football facility? What is its status?
"We are moving there, but we don't have the gift. Until we get the gift, we aren't going to do any construction."
I have noticed that you are doing some construction at the football stadium. You are adding some endzone seats.
"We are putting in the endzone seats. We are going to finish the concessions and restrooms work under the old part of the stadium. A lot of work has been done this summer, about $700,000 worth. There have been renovations to the old parts of both the eastside and westside, including a new restroom on the eastside and all new concessions stands and first-aid rooms. And there have been renovations on the restrooms and concessions on the westside."
Getting back to the new permanent endzone seats. What will be its capacity compared to last year's?
"The endzone seats will seat about 3,500. It seated about 3,200 last season. The only difference is these are permanent. It will have a concrete foundation."
Are there any plans to add a new sound system in the football stadium?
"We have made some adjustments in the current sound system, but we have never used the entire amperage. If we do, then we will have some real problems about blowing the people out in certain areas of the stadium."
I'm curious about something. There have been several folks who have posted that a Peavey sound system has been offered to the MSU Athletic Department. Has anyone offered such a sound system to the university free the past few years?
"I am not aware of any such offer."
On a more personal level, do you feel the internet message boards are a negative or a positive for Mississippi State athletics?
"They are a negative. I never turn them on."
How do you know they are a negative?
"Just because of all the stuff that is thrown out there. We spend a lot of time chasing down accusations."
Would you say it is more the message boards and not the internet itself that causes so many problems?
"I don't really know because I don't have time to go there. I have enough real issues of dealing with real facts. The problem is most of the stuff that we have to chase down, the people who posts them don't have a third of the facts.
"Where I have my problem is with a person not willing to sign his name. Quite honestly, I'm not going to respond to anonymous people. I have enough letters here from people who are willing to sign their names. I think there are legitimate concerns among these letters. There are complaints that we need to look at. There is one complaint about tents in the parking lots. They don't get there until game time and the parking lot is full. It is not full because we have too many cars in there, but because we have too many tents in there. But these people are willing to sign their names on their complaints. I have three or four in these letters that are concerned about their seat locations, but they signed their name. And we will respond to them."
What if you had a message board where all users signed their own names to it when posting?
"I don't have a problem with that. I hope they start putting their names on there and standing behind their comments. That's is the biggest problem everybody has with the message boards. People use fictitious names and say what they want to. Sometimes what they say bounce all over the place. I would say the compliance people spend half of their time chasing down anonymous stuff."
I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me.
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page (http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com), the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports and Mississippi high school sports on the internet. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.