Cowbell Issue Should Be Non-Starter

When the SEC summer meeting convenes next month some talks will center around the possible expansion of the league, the divisional seeding format for the men's basketball tournament...and reviewing the league's artificial noisemaker ban. Or, the 'Cowbell rule'. With other larger issues this conference faces keeping pace with other major conferences, and most cases staying ahead, this seems silly.

Bringing and ringing of the cowbell has been a long standing tradition for Mississippi State football fans for decades, despite official sanctions put in place years ago but almost never enforced.

Now it seems some within this conference are hoping to silence the Bully Bells once and for all. Next month's meeting will be the first discussions about the "artificial noisemakers" in some time. It's a fancy label for items fans bring to games to cheer on their team, not applying to school- or stadium-controlled P.A. and bands.

Back in 2003, the SEC decreed that on the field officials had the authority to warn and subsequently penalize a team who's fans violated the artificial noisemaker rule. On-field officials were charged with determining what was an excessive amount of cowbells and then enforcing the rule by penalizing the team.

This led to at least one instance where the Bulldog crowd was flagged for excessive artificial noisemakers and the team penalized, thus making Mississippi State the first school in the history of the NCAA to have a hankie thrown for the home crowd being too loud.

The official restrictions on cowbells have been a rather fluid thing throughout the years. They were initially legal, then only allowed at non-conference games while still considered contraband for any contest involving an SEC team in or out of conference play.

Ironically, in 2007 Liberty Bowl officials made it clear to Bulldog fans every where that cowbells would be welcome, even encouraged, at the Liberty Bowl when Mississippi State played Central Florida two years ago. Thousands of bells helped keep Bulldog fans warm until their team pulled out the victory on a cold Memphis evening.

Fans of SEC football are among the most passionate in the country and that passion is the fuel for greatness in the league. Tradition is important to all schools and their respective fan bases.

"Cowbells have a special place in the hearts of Mississippi State fans," said Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin. "They make for one of the unique traditions in the Southeastern Conference, much like wearing white football jerseys for LSU or playing between the hedges at Georgia."

Stricklin makes a good argument and certainly all fans of the SEC are familiar with that unique suspension of standard home/visitor game colors. LSU's annual request requires a waiver of the league policy and the blessing of the SEC well as the opposing team. The rest of this league sees no reason to deny one special tradition, why not others as long as they do not impact play on the field itself?

Some opponents of the cowbell consider the issue a matter of safety and point to an unfortunate incident last season when a fan assaulted another with his cowbell. There are some who projected shortly after that incident that the issue would once again be up for discussion.

Not to be too pragmatic about it all, but a cowbell has never assaulted a person. If a cowbell had not been handy, would the suspect have used another object like a stadium seat cover complete with metal handle and all?

To blame the cowbell for the poor decision of one person is not fair to the thousands who simply bring their cowbell to support their team.

In the end, the athletic directors around the league are expected to discuss the matter, how seriously yet to be seen. There are some who suggest that if the league is going to have a long-standing rule on the books, then it needs to be enforced. The cowbell/noisemaker ban was passed in 1975 after all.

There are others who wonder why such a rule even exits. It is nearly impossible to properly enforce. Who determines how much "artificial noise" is excessive?

Is there an arbitrary number of decibels that leads to an infraction and who's to say most of those decibels are the result of cowbells?

Since the NCAA has decided that a team cannot be penalized on the field for the issue, what would be considered a fair penalty for the host school?

Is there a warning given after one week and penalty the next and who decides what that would be?

Would there be a year round official in Starkville just to police the amount of cowbell noise in the name of consistency and who's to say the cowbells in Starkville are louder than the Thunder sticks in Arkansas the same weekend?

The variables are many and the arguments plentiful, but in the end the court of public opinion will not be where the decision is made. It will be at a meeting where most parties have their eyes on a bigger prize, but their votes will carry a lot of weight to a fan base to whom they do not answer.

Scott Stricklin will be representing the Mississippi State athletic department, which will be receiving another big check as part of the league's expected-another-record payouts from another record year's receipts. Yet he will also be representing Bulldog fans. And the brand-new athletic director, as well as 1992 alumnus, will stand up before his peers for everything that matters to Mississippi State. Politely, and firmly.

"We are proud to be a member of this great conference and share in its successes," said Stricklin. "But we also need to be able to communicate to our fellow SEC members the unique symbolism cowbells hold for all generations of Bulldog fans and athletes, and the part all such traditions play in making the SEC the best conference in the country."

This sounds like a 'ringing' endorsement for both Mississippi State and the SEC to hear.

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