State Requests Respect For The Bell

Since the good May news that after 35 seasons in legal exile cowbells would be allowed unobstructed entrance to Davis Wade Stadium, the question for Mississippi State fans is just how, and how often, the athletic program's cherished-if-unofficial symbols could be utilized during Bulldog games. Mississippi State is providing the definitive guide. A printed one.

A foldout flyer following the theme Respect the Bell, Ring Responsibly is being provided by Mississippi State. It will be included in every season or game ticket mailed out next month, and stacks of spares will be left at the Ticket Office, the Bulldog Club, and other campus locales.

The Bulldog bottom-line is that along with this long-sought opportunity to bring our bells back inside the Dog's house—this legislative relief applies only to Starkville games, with cowbells still fully banned at all other SEC venues—comes with qualifications. To wit, as explained in the flyer's primary Q & A: "Mississippi State fans are allowed to ring their cowbells during pregame, timeouts, halftime, and after the Bulldogs score."

As further expounded in the guide:

The Stakes. "By altering the artificial noisemaker policy, the conference has put the fate of our cowbells in our own hands. The new legislation could result either in a permanent acceptance of our tradition or a permanent ban with further restrictions, including heavy fines."

This section goes on to add that a fine structure is going to be in effect "for this season". It does not specify what those fines are, who determines the fine, or for that matter who decides if the revised rule has been broken. Such things are expected to be settled at an August SEC conference in Orlando, but Mississippi State did not want to wait until all details were settled before getting the word out to fans. Though the expected nature of those fines is made clear by the next section.

The Challenge. "There is no doubt that in order for us to be successful we need to make Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field one of the most intimidating places to play in all of college football. There's also no doubt we can ill-afford to hinder our football program with monetary penalties following each home game."

That paragraph goes on to state the obvious fine-line State is trying to track in this uncertain legislative setting. Which is, how to raise the volume during Bulldog games within the rules. Of course since 1975 when the SEC first issued the arbitrary ban on ‘artificial noisemakers' that even non-State folk have called the cowbell rule, State fans have been able to make up the decibel difference on their own initiative. Especially since 1991 when all home games returned to Scott Field, the nation's second-oldest campus football venue has been surprisingly loud at field level considering that the capacity is second-lowest in the league.

Now with the full-addition of the industry-standard video board, scoreboard, and a sound system that rattles windows in town, DWS doesn't lack for noise. But what made MSU unique of course was the clatter of cowbells, and Bulldog folk have found ways to make them heard despite official disapproval. Now they have the open opportunity to let them ring…within SEC limits. Thus…

The Policy. Setting up with the rhetorical question of why the compromise when things seemed just fine in previous years, the flyer resumes. "Things weren't fine a year ago. Things haven't really been fine for 36 years. The compromise allows Mississippi State fans to legally bring their cowbells into the stadium, albeit with the responsibility to ring them at the proper times."

There it is again, the proper times as listed above; pregame (and presumably afterwards when the Bulldogs are celebrating another home-field victory), timeouts, halftime, and after scores. The obvious follow-up from fans as well as media to MSU officials has been other ‘big plays' or intense situations where the faithful can't resist the urge to encourage their homefield heroes? That has been addressed in fan meetings, such as two weeks ago in Jackson when athletic director Scott Stricklin conceded that crunch-time passions will present the temptation...which he added must be resisted.

Because, as the flyer continues, "There is no more going back to ‘how it was'. This compromise allows us to stave off a likely complete ban. This is our chance to show that our fans can observe conference rules and act with sportsmanship while preserving our tradition."

Mississippi State also concedes the reality that is not an easy sell to a fan base that has felt unfairly targeted by an arbitrary regulation for 35-plus years. College sports is as much, maybe more, about emotion and attitude as it is results and records. Denying application of a remarkable tradition rubs even non-MSU folk the wrong way in principle, though opponents—for that matter even lower-key Bulldog loyalists--who have endured an afternoon within earshot of an industrial grade-cowbell vigorously wielded are not so sympathetic.

But this is the cowbell, the unique icon of Bulldog sports and even utilized as an official athletic department logo. Mississippi State's administration, athletic and University alike, used 2010 to make their best case to conference cousins that our ‘artificial noisemaker' be returned to good graces at home games, and received SEC dispensation under the stated circumstances. So, as the flyer posits, ‘Will This Plan Work?"

Apparently it has to.

"Don't doubt us," the flyer goes on. "Don't doubt the importance of our tradition to Mississippi State fans. And don't doubt the ability of the Mississippi State family to rise together and show the conference and the nation that we can continue to preserve our tradition and play by the rules at the same time."

Time, indeed, will tell.

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