Stricklin: "We Can Be Whatever We Want To Be"

When Scott Stricklin talks of the ‘family atmosphere' in Bulldog athletics, he isn't kidding. During an office interview the athletic director concedes his own desk—and computer--to daughter Abby while Dad talks with two boring old reporters. During the half-hour discussion other daughter Sophie and mom Anne arrive also.

But none of this registers as interruptions since all are familiar friends of Dawgs' Bite. Besides, Stricklin is in a good mid-summer mood and with very good reasons. His first two months as director of Mississippi State athletics have already produced success; whether tangible in the form of a record-sales pace for football season tickets, or the intangible victory at the SEC meetings allowing Bulldog fans to bring ‘em and ring ‘em at home games within defined limits.

So how was he able to flex such MSU muscle with all those powerful SEC peers so soon in his director's career? "My philosophy is always to close your eyes and swing hard!" quips Stricklin, adding "Was that a legitimate question?"

Well, perhaps not. Yet Dawgs' Bite does have a list of more pertinent—and presumably less pert—items to discuss here in the slow summer season. Part I of the Q&A runs here, with Part II coming Wednesday. And seriously, how did Stricklin feel he was accepted as newest member of the SEC-AD fraternity?

Stricklin: "I have a lot of pre-existing relationships and that is always helpful. I sat next to Mitch Barnhart at a lot of meetings, a guy I worked for at Kentucky. And Jay Jacobs and I worked together at Auburn, Jay was an assistant AD at that time. Jeff Long (Arkansas) and I were in the Big XII at the same time, he was at Oklahoma and I was at Baylor. So there were a lot of relationships. It wasn't awkward, there was a comfort level on the communication side.

"I assume you're talking about the cowbells. The hard thing there is I wanted to make sure we were respectful in our conversation. I'm like a lot of our fans, I wanted to stand up and ring them, I was ready to ‘go to the mattresses' over cowbells. But I don't know that that's an effective approach. Any time you're trying to reach some kind of conclusion to an issue you want to understand what the other person's concerns are. I wanted to make sure I went in respectfully and make sure they knew I understood their concerns. And that as beautiful as the cowbell sounds to us, they probably don't receive the same way! By the same token it was important they understood this is something that is important to us.

"The conference craziness that happened after Destin is a great illustration of how fortunate Mississippi State is from the standpoint of we've been in the same league with the same relationships for 77 years. But look at Nebraska and Colorado, they're both about to go in their third different league(s) within the last twenty years. I mean, that's pretty instable for some pretty stable programs. You look at the consistency and the familiarity and the strength of the relationships that all of us have in this league; and when issues like this come up that's when the commonality comes into play."

Q: You brought up conference moves, so…is it over, is it pausing for a few years, what? "If you look historically, it's never over. It's never done. I don't know, my sense is there were people asking if the SEC was going to react. I tend to think other leagues are reacting to what the SEC has done the last five or six years. That culminated with the landmark TV deals with CBS and ESPN. I think the strength we find ourselves in has caused other leagues to react and try to strengthen their position in relation to what we've done. That's a huge credit to Commissioner Slive for navigating the waters the way he has. It's a real credit to our league schools and coaches and student-athletes that represent this area.

"And the one thing we have that is really going to be difficult for other leagues to try to counter, is just the passion this area has for college athletics. In general, but for the Southeastern Conference in particular. I heard a TV executive one time say when Minnesota and Indiana are playing there are not a lot TV sets in Columbus, Ohio tuned to that game. But when Auburn plays South Carolina the rating in Baton Rouge, La., is through the roof for that football game. Just the nine states that we represent has a tremendous passion for the SEC. It's not just their school, we're all interested in each other.

"And I think another time you see that is in a NCAA post-season event, you don't hear Pac-10 schools chanting ‘Pac-10' when one of their schools is about to win a championship. But you hear SEC schools' fans chant ‘S-E-C!' when one of our schools is about to win on the national level. I think that's part of the South. I'm sure there's a sociologist who can peel this back a little more, but pride is such an important emotion in the South; we really show a lot of our pride in our SEC sports teams."

Q: And are well-rewarded for it. Remind us what this year's SEC payout was for State? "Well, $17.3 (million) was the published report. That's accurate. Last year it was about $12 million."

"Our state budget is $37 million, the SEC money is part of that. And we have some Bulldog Club money, (the total budget) is somewhere in the $40s. I won't say how much but probably close to $45 million."

Q: TV revenue gets the headlines, but this is still a program based on ticket receipts. You must be pleased with the pace of sales so far? "Our folks are really excited and I think they're showing it by the way they're buying season tickets.

"And really, we've had these stair-step events. You know, we had the spring game Dan (Mullen's) first year which kind of opened people's eyes to kind of support we can generate. Then last season we set records for season tickets, student tickets, overall attendance, all kind of single-game attendance records, led the nation in increased average attendance. And then we went into spring again and had another record crowd this spring game. Now we're ahead of the pace on where we were last year for season tickets at this time.

"I just think the interest level and the excitement continues to build. And what is really exciting, we're kind of blazing new paths. Our fans are blazing new ground. We don't have to be what people once thought we might have been or what we used to be. We can be whatever we want to be; we just have to get as many people involved as possible and sell this institution and this University.

"Yeah, that makes a huge impact. Because when you sell season tickets there is usually a Bulldog Club contribution attached to it, not always. But it all is so tied together. And the more eyeballs we have paying attention, being engaged with our program; the more resources we're going to have to attack the challenges; the better off we're going to be."

Q: The sales total updates, how many students tickets are being counted? "That includes 11,000 student tickets."

Q: Do you have a breakdown of what percentage of sales so far are full-price tickets? "I don't have that right here. Our average price-per-season ticket is up this year over last year, which tells me we're selling more full-price tickets."

Q: What is the most that can be sold? "We max-out somewhere just shy of 44,000. Last year we sold about 3,000 short of that."

Q: How critical is it for long-term planning to match or even exceed last year's sales, without the rivalry games on this schedule? "I think it's one of the things that is really encouraging. If you're going to set a record you're going to expect it to happen in an odd-number year when you have so many of your close geographic rivals coming in here; instead of an even-number year when we don't have that. To be able to match last year…and I think we're going to pass where we were. And ideally we'll be able to sell-out of season tickets. I don't know if it will happen this year, but it will happen.

"And obviously as you talk about expanding the stadium you're a lot more comfortable making those decisions if you feel demand is at the point you're selling out of your season tickets."

Wednesday: ideas for Davis Wade Stadium, State and SEC football scheduling, and more

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