From The Dawghouse

J.C. Brignone only had to shift his gaze a few degrees left—far less than what helmet-turning the Bulldog center does reading pre-snap defenses—to see the priceless prize of his first season with Dan Mullen perched on a special table. "I think that Golden Egg looks great over there," he said, adding "But I know for a fact it won't be leaving here this year."

Confident? Well yes, one would say so. But then of course this is preseason, when every football player and fan is free to express assurance over the coming campaign. A whole lot of such was on open display today, too, as Mississippi State held the annual Fan Day. Though Bulldog players and coaches didn't arrive until nearly noon, fans were lining up at the Palmeiro Center early. So much so that when the first Dogs came through the door, the queue ran literally from one end of the practice field to the other and was already wrapping-around player tables. It was enough to draw praise from one old Dog.

"This is amazing," senior Brignone said. "This is a great experience. We just got done talking to each other about the whole team and how we're doing together. And it's just good to see our fans come out here and be so supportive of us. It's going to be a good season for us, we've been working our butts off, and I think the fans see that."

One Dog fans did not see was starting quarterback Chris Relf, excused for what MSU officials would only call 'personal reasons'. Mullen has initiated a no-comment policy on injuries this preseason, and other sources say Relf injured a finger on his throwing hand on a defender's helmet this week. He did not throw passes Thursday, and with the finger wrapped and braced would not have been able to sign autographs. Not to mention deal with concerned questions from fans who were having an otherwise delightful day.

No crowd count was immediately offered by MSU officials, though one media wag (guess who) suggested 8,300 as a ‘paid' attendance. That being the general total membership of the Bulldog Club as reported by director Mike Richey. Only a couple-hundred or so Club members made their way to the general meeting, But neither Scott Stricklin or Dan Mullen minded the modest morning turnout, though. Both the A.D. and the head coach can be confident as well that one week from today a somewhat larger crowd will report to Davis Wade Stadium to watch the Bulldogs host Memphis. Like, say, 55,000-plus?< This is because, of course, State fans have made the 2010 preseason a victory in itself with record-setting purchases of season tickets. This included the past week's instant exhaustion of student tickets, all 11,000. "We sold all our student tickets in just 18 hours," Mullen told the Bulldog Club meeting. Which is something an up-tempo coach can appreciate.

As of latest counting the total has hit 42,600, from an available supply of just under 44,000. As Stricklin noted, 20% of the stadium seating is reserved for State students, second in SEC apportionment to Florida's 24%. So if Mississippi State won't be able to reprise the feat of last fall when Bulldog game attendance showed the largest increase in the entire NCAA, this is an even better situation. The house that last year was filled, should stay full in 2010.

Which naturally meant the new A.D. anticipated and addressed to some extent one of the hot Dog topics of 2010: stadium expansion. In fact the coach beat Stricklin to the punch. "Once we create a waiting list, and then let's expand the stadium to levels we never thought of before," Mullen told the Club meeting.

But then Stricklin and State have been thinking of larger levels already, as did the preceding directors and coaches. Stricklin got right to the point this morning, saying there really are plans in the works for DWS. He has had frequent talks with a Meridian architects firm, which in-turn has helped get State in touch with national companies. Including, the firm in Kansas City which has a fine track record with professional and college stadium projects. Stricklin visited them in June already.

This morning he showed on the overhead screen some proposals for the stadium itself and the general athletic plant, though warning that these were only ideas and suggestions as of this time. The point was giving Club members something to look at and think about. Later, talking with media, Stricklin said the opportunity is obvious given current trends.

"We've doubled our season ticket base in the last 13 years," he said. "And in the last five years we've added 11,000 season tickets. And that's without the kind of success that we're going to have going forward. So it doesn't take a math genius to project that the demand is going to be outpacing our supply here. In fact it kind-of started last year." Stricklin was referring not just to record season attendance growth but the overflow crowds for the Florida and Alabama games, Incidentally, the Bulldog-Gator duel produced ESPN's highest audience of the '09 regular season, Stricklin reported.

So there is both reason and emotion behind the concept of a bigger DWS. What Stricklin would not say then, or later, was either the price tag or the timeline.

"From the moment you decide you're going to do something of that magnitude its probably an 18-to-20 month build process," he did tell reporters. "So we've got to get our arms around exactly what we think that demand is going to be; and you've almost got to project forward three, four years from now what that is going to look like." At the Club meeting he did imply that other stadium issues are in need of addressing, particularly ‘vertical access' to the West Grandstand served by one elevator since the upper deck was built for 1985. Modernized concessions areas, restrooms, and the like are also on MSU's to-do list.

None of which, Stricklin said, adds to the gameday bottom line for State. What they mean is a far better gameday experience for State fans already committed to the program, and that is a worthwhile investment in its own right. Stricklin also provided cautionary notes, which reflected what Mullen had said about establishing more demand than can now be served first before making major moves. What MSU does not want according to Stricklin are a lot of nice, new empty seats at lower-profile games which might not attract capacity crowds.

"We need to make sure when we expand there are going to be people in the seats," he said. At the same time the young A.D. and coach alike want to make sure State fans, current and prospective alike, know there is serious attention being paid to the program's audience potential.

"Our hope…" Stricklin began, before restarting with more assurance. "No, what we're going to do is in the next year just show our fan base a vision and direction of what we want to do with the football stadium. And some other venues, but primarily the football stadium for this conversation. And we're going to talk about how we're going to pay for it, then execute and make it happen."

Speaking of other venues, there have been notions floated and even some drawing submitted about significant renovations and even possible expansion of Humphrey Coliseum. Lately such talk has faded and Stricklin confirmed "It's not a priority right now." For a good reason, too, as what he called "our supply and demand" for tickets to Bulldog basketball has found a fine balance. So a bigger gym is not in the plans.

A better one, now that is more in line with Stricklin's thinking. "Anything we do would be adding premium seating, such as suites and skyboxes. And on the concourse to ‘open up' the flow and improve the experience." More immediately, State will be replacing the current gray courtside seats with improved ones for the 2011-12 season. And, access to that and courtside seating will be improved by altering the stairways at each end of the floor.

"I can tell from coming in here with other schools, that when the Hump is packed this is as intimidating a place as there is to play in the SEC. I kind of like that."

Meanwhile the $3 million track replacement and renovation is on pace for spring completion. When Bulldog soccer opens the home schedule next week it will be on entirely new turf, too. A golf practice facility is finally becoming reality for a program that has done without forever. And of course the basketball practice gym is supposed to open perhaps as early as January now, as weather won't impact the remaining work.

Yet even while thinking long-term about the biggest Dog house, Mullen is making a case for a new football facility. Not just a practice field or meeting space or offices, either; or for that matter a compliment to the Shira/Holliman complex and Templeton Center.

Mullen wants an all-everything building devoted entirely to Bulldog football.

"We need to catch up to everybody else, instead of split facilities," he told the Bulldog Club meeting. "We need to consolidate." Stricklin showed one architect's idea of what such a multi-story facility would look like, located on the northwest corner of campus above the practice fields and behind Palmeiro. The project meets Stricklin's approval too, as the A.D. noted the practical advantages to team work and the implied boost in recruiting presence.

In other updates, Stricklin said the existing chairback seats at Polk-Dement Stadium are due for fall removal. Some, the newest ones, will be taken to DWS for re-use. Most will be disposed of, though seatholders who wish will be told of an opportunity to purchase them for mementoes. All chairbacks will be new for the 2011 season.

With just six home games next year—including one with Tennessee-Martin which has not been officially announced yet—Stricklin expects to hold the football season ticket price level in 2011. Beyond that, well… "If we were to win nine or ten games or do something spectacular I wouldn't rule anything out." Since, the implication being, such a feat would merit a nice raise in coaching and staff salaries…perhaps out of necessity to keep the winning head coach around.

"But right now we have not plans to raise prices," Stricklin said of '11.

Then again, if Mississippi State does turn the proverbial and practical corner on the football field this fall, Bulldog ducats will be worth their weight in precious metal. None more so than the gilded stuff molded into an antique football shape and mounted proudly on a pedestal. It is that trophy that Brignone and Co. intend to keep safe at home for another year. And longer, even.

"Guys like me and Derek Sherrod were talking, and listening to the guys here," Brignone said. "That we've got to keep it going. Make sure that there is a dynasty of winning here."

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