The good Dr. had tongue more than slightly in-cheek. Ever since the infamous events of 1974-75 and creation of the Southeastern Conference ban on artificial noisemakers at league events there have always been bovine-bells at Bulldog games. No instruction will be required when Coach Dan Mullen's team takes Scott Field prior to their September 4 opener with Memphis (time TBA).
But the University president's words required clarification. Cowbells are indeed allowed in Davis Wade Stadium with no interference for all games this fall; but their use is restricted to, basically, periods where officially-managed noise is also legal. Put another way, the SEC's easement of their longstanding rule does not include when the football is in play. Since the May re-ruling at the SEC's spring meeting Mississippi State administrators have pondered how to instill this revised regulation in fan minds.
The result? The newest catchphrase on campus, repeated Thursday night on 3,000 tee-shirts handed out for free at the Jackson Convention Center aided by Ford sponsorship. Underneath a version of a Bulldog Club typo logo cowbell was printed ‘Respect the Tradition' and ‘Ring Respectfully'.
New athletic director Scott Stricklin, for whom this trip to the metro area of his youth was a natural triumphant return, appreciated the thanks of fans who applauded the firm position he and Dr. Keenum took in Destin last spring. Now, though, he is trying to get the message across: cowbells are back conditionally. And it isn't going to be easy getting passionate football fans to remember, or for that matter care, at crunch time what a conference administrator has said is the Rule.
"It's the fourth quarter, we're holding a slim lead, the other team is driving…" Stricklin told the crowd, showing his understanding of the natural stresses. But, he reminded, "We can't make anybody do anything. We're going to ask, as the tee-shirt says, to respect the tradition." Stricklin added, "We've got to do it to keep the tradition alive.
"Just like Dan expects his team not to jump off-sides, we've got to be disciplined."
Still Stricklin's message wasn't delivered as a lecture, just a plea of fan to fan; someone who knows the tradition from both inside and, by virtue of tours at Auburn, Tulane, and Kentucky and trips back to MSU for games, from the outside as well. Dr. Keenum also managed to keep the conversation light.
"How in the world are you going to keep people from ringing their cowbells? Dan says he has it figured out, we don't have to worry about it!"
Mississippi State officials do not appear overly worried about an upcoming SEC conference in August, either. This is when the league could complete unfinished business from May, because when the cowbell clarification was issued the SEC only said that penalties—how they would be triggered, what they would consist of—would be decided at a later date. This scheduled conference in Orlando is the next date.
During their talks league folk might need to offer other advisements. Even before the football Bulldogs kick off their 2010 campaign, there will be games played on campus. And Mullen will be party to at least one, as special guest assistant to Coach Jenny Hazelwood when the volleyball Bulldogs open play the last weekend in August. His appearance in Newell-Grissom is for the Saturday match with Montana, on Fan Day at MSU.
"And you can all bring your cowbells to the volleyball match!" Mullen proclaimed. Well, that would be fitting in a historical sense…since generations of State students knew N-G when it was called the Cowbarn.