Greg Byrne Talks About MSU-USM Series

Mississippi Sate athletic director Greg Byrne talks about the Mississippi State-Southern Miss two-game football series that starts in 2014 in Starkville.

What was the reason for this series to be renewed?
"Economics certainly played a part in it just like it does for any athletic department in the country. At the same time, like I said earlier, we view ourselves as a leader in the state of Mississippi. And we have tried to be very progression and have a different thought process as far as scheduling goes. Scheduling Jackson State, scheduling Southern Miss, having discussions with Alcorn (State) and (Mississippi) Valley (State), having a sold-out stadium for Jackson State for the first game of the year .... that made sense for Mississippi State. When we make our scheduling decisions we will do what we think is best for Mississippi State."

Who initiated the schedule conversation?
"It was a joint conversation."

Someone had to have initiated it.
"Richard mentioned it the first time. I was in Hattiesburg one day and stopped by and talked to him. That was the first time that we had met face to face."

What did he say? And what did you say in respond to him?
"He said, 'I really want to play you.' I said I'm not sure."

What happened to cause you to go ahead with it?
"Coach Mullen was in favor of it. Dr. Keenum was in favor of it. We looked at our scheduling. And I continued to look at the landscape and thought that it made sense for us."

You obviously know this is a controversial decision, especially among the Mississippi State fanbase. Due to that, did you talk to any alumni about it? If you did, what was their input about the possibility of playing Southern Miss again?
"Sure. (As for the input) there was concern. But the reality is if you feel you are putting the university in the forefront of your decision-making whether everyone agrees with it or not, you still do what you feel is best for the school."

You have probably heard some negative comments about the series. What were they? And how did you respond to them?
"Sure. Some of the negative ones were we don't have anything to gain from this series. But I disagree with that. From a financial standpoint we have a lot to gain. It will be a very good financial day for our athletic department when we play them. From a recruiting standpoint it makes sense. These families can come watch their kids play more often. And from a marketing standpoint we see ourselves as the leader in the state. We are the ones out on the forefront scheduling these games. We are trying to be the leader in scheduling, the leader in marketing, the leader in the academics, all the different things. And this is another piece of that."

A lot of MSU fans see this as a win-win situation for Southern Miss but not a win situation for Mississippi State even if State wins because State is expected to win this game. What are your thoughts about that?
"If we are going to have the program that we want year-in, year-out, no matter who we play non-conference wise, we need to feel going into the game that we are going to win the ballgame, period. And that is what we are basing our scheduling on. Southern Miss is also going to expect to win this football game. So, we darn well better feel like we are going to win this football game.

"And on top of that, if you have seen what we are doing marketing-wise, you have seen that we are constantly putting Mississippi State out there. We are trying to promote the fact of who we are and that we are proud of who we are. Reaching out to Jackson State, Alcorn State, (Mississippi) Valley (State), Southern (Miss) makes sense for us because we are embracing the state of Mississippi. And we believe the young men and young women in our state will identify with our school when it comes time for their recruiting decisions and making their school choice. We think this is another piece of that puzzle."

You mentioned in the formal press conference that Dan Mullen felt like it would help his recruiting efforts. But don't you also believe it may be even more beneficial for Southern Miss' recruiting efforts?
"No, I don't think so. From a recruiting perspective, it gives the families of the kids in our state that we are recruiting a chance to come watch them play. And that is a very important part of the recruiting decision. That's why you don't see many kids go a long way away. Some will, but families are concern about seeing their sons and daughters play. So, this does make sense for us from a recruiting-standpoint."

There was a rumor that this series was going to be a two-for-one with Mississippi State getting two home games. Was that discussed in regard to this series?
"That wasn't talked about in this case. Most of our two-for-ones that we are doing are with either the Sun Belt or the WAC conferences. We've also had discussions with the MAC in the midwest. But we've had a history of playing Tulane, UAB, Memphis home and home. And we thought that made the most sense for this series."

How did you two come up with the $200,000 figure the home team will give the visiting team?
"That is pretty common. Teams exchange anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 for home and home non-conference games."

Did the Jackson State game have any influence on this decision or had these discussions started prior to that game?
"The discussions had already started but it certainly helped reinforce the strengths of playing an in-state game."

What did the Jackson State game do to reinforce it?
"There was a great turnout. The fanbases got along well together. A full stadium. And the emphasis on our state that weekend and also leading up to the game was Mississippi State and Jackson State."

Why did Mississippi State get the home game in 2014?
"We needed a home game in 2014 and we needed a road game in 2015 to get to seven games both seasons."

How many home games will you have for the next few years?
"We will have seven home games every year except for 2011 all the way through 2016."

There are banners on the Davis Wade Stadium of former Mississippi State football stars. Two of those are John Bond and Johnie Cooks. Neither one of those players ever defeated Southern Miss. Have you talked to either of those players about this series? If so, what were their reactions?
"I talked to John. He's all for it and behind it 100%. He thinks it's great for football in the state of Mississippi. In fact, he has probably sent me a dozen text messages over the last two days. Johnie Cooks actually called me this morning but I haven't been able to talk to him yet."

You said you have also talked to Alcorn and Mississippi Valley about scheduling. Anything signed with them yet?
"We haven't signed anything with them, but we are talking with them."

Does it appear that will happen?
"We hope so."

This is a regional type game and you are looking for more regional games, aren't you?
"From a fans perspective, we want it to be where they can get to as many of our road games as possible. I think that is a great reputation for your school to have. People will say that school travels, they will be there. (As an example) we had a great turnout at Vanderbilt last weekend. We had a great turnout the weekend before at Auburn. So, that speaks well as to what we are doing."

What are some other things you are trying to do schedule-wise?
"We are trying to do a number of 2 for 1 games where we will get folks to our place twice and go to their place once. That will allow us to not have as much of a financial payout, but those are hard to get. There are some schools that are paying a million dollars for guarantees now. And that's challenging (for us). But when you play that third game you are going to pay a lot less than that million dollars. And a couple of our other goals are to get seven home games every year and go to a bowl game every year, not necessarily in that order. And we want to make sure we put ourselves in the best position possible to do that."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by emailing

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