A Sunday afternoon ramble concerning Ole Miss

Getting the good word out about Ole Miss has been a challenge over the years. Whether it's visibility in sports stores and truck stops or in malls and businesses and yards, we don't do enough to promote our own visibility. That should change.

Andy Kennedy has mentioned recently playing some basketball games in some off-campus venues like Tupelo and Jackson and the Coast and Southaven. While some may disagree, I think it's a very good thing. Always have.

Lots of college basketball teams do that, especially in more rural areas, especially during the holidays. Oklahoma State will play a game in Tulsa. The Illinois-Missouri game in St. Louis is one of that cities' biggest winter sports attractions.

If you plan it and schedule it right, it can be a boon for your program.

The Rebels have actually done it some but rarely. The men and women played a double header in Tupelo two seasons ago. Back in Dec., 2001, the men played a game in Southaven.

The Rebels and Lady Rebels christened basketball in the new arena in Tupelo in the mid-1990s, but those were preseason exhibition contests that didn't count in the standings. Over time the Rebels played a handful of games in Jackson and even got down to the Coast some.

Kennedy seems to lean toward doing some of this every year. Sounds like a good plan. We hear about the need for more coverage for Ole Miss teams statewide, more exposure for who and what we are. Taking teams to all corners of the state is absolutely positive for the university in every way.

Sure, it's more trouble playing a home game away from home than playing one in Oxford. No question about that, from what the players and coaches and staff people have to do to what those in the locales where the games are played have to do.

But let me say again, it is worth it. There are sports fans in northeast Mississippi who won't drive to Oxford for a game but will take one in if it's played in Tupelo. I know some of them personally. It's the proximity deal and the novelty of it.

But what you are doing is building your fan base through the eyes and ears of those in another area. Get them to Tupelo or Jackson or Southaven for a game and chances are they might make it to Oxford, heck even become a season ticket holder if they enjoy their experience.

You want to broaden your base of support? Take your product to the people when you can. Don't always insist they come to Oxford. Take it to people who might not otherwise have a chance to get to a game. Seems the new hoops staff gets this, or at least they appear to want to give it a shot.

You can't do it in football anymore. I rode by E.H. Crump Stadium in Memphis Saturday night. A carload of us had attended a Redbirds baseball game at Autozone Park. Afterwards we drove by Crump, or what's left of it.

Somebody on the Spirit message board told us Crump was coming down. The former home away from home for the football Rebels is indeed almost gone. The north stands (the home side by Methodist hospital) are gone now. The south stands are about half gone. If you want to see any of what's left of the place where some of the greatest Rebel football victories of all time were played, you'd better go take a look soon.

College football left Crump when Memphis Memorial Stadium (now called Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium) opened in 1965. Mississippi Memorial Stadium in Jackson basically got all the Rebels' home away from home games after that.

Younger Ole Miss fans have no idea how often football used to be played off campus. It's been 10 seasons since the Rebels played a football game in Jackson. Before the early 1990s, there'd be three and sometimes even only two home football games in Oxford. The rest of the home games were played in Memphis or Jackson, for the most part.

But other teams did the same thing, like State and Alabama and Auburn. The Arkansas Razorbacks still do with usually two home games each season in Little Rock.

That was all done to take football to the people, especially in the more rural south. But now so much money is spent on stadiums and club seats and sky boxes on campus, it's not done anymore. Even Arkansas will likely someday pull out of Little Rock's antiquated and smaller War Memorial Stadium. Teams now want a true home field advantage and that means playing on campus.

But you can do this in basketball or any of the other sports for selected games. It's why baseball plays a couple of games in Jackson/Pearl (vs. USM, MSU) each season, and why the basketball teams can do the same. There are so many games played in those sports that it makes good sense to take a home game out of Oxford once in a while. In basketball during the holidays is the perfect time.

I hear some students complain that when they buy season basketball tickets that about five or six of the games they'll miss because of the holidays – either Thanksgiving, Christmas or both. That's when you take a game to Tupelo or Jackson or one of the other sites, when the students from there are there, and when the crowds in Oxford will be down.

There's been a lot of discussion recently (can you say understatement?) concerning Ole Miss coverage and exposure and visibility. It's certainly an area that we can do better, and I am not referring to any one media or outlet. I'm talking about in any number of ways.

Let me give you a couple of examples. Back around Christmas, my dad and I went into a sports store in a new outdoor mall area near Memphis; just east of Memphis, in Collierville, to be exact. It was filled floor to ceiling with everything sports, from college teams to pro teams.

I didn't notice much Ole Miss "stuff" anywhere but didn't say anything. I saw my dad stop at the door as we were leaving. He turned around and looked past Memphis stuff and Clemson stuff, Texas gear and Tennessee helmets, Auburn and Georgia and Mississippi State t's and Arkansas and Notre Dame and Florida and Oklahoma caps and magnets and flags.

Finally I asked him what he was doing. He said "Just looking to see if I can see anything with Ole Miss on it."

I said, "There's one" and I pointed way at the back near the ceiling, and hanging there was an Ole Miss doormat.

I hope there wasn't a message there somewhere.

Besides the U of Memphis, Ole Miss is the closest major college campus to this particular store, just an hour away from Oxford.

Saturday on our Redbirds' trip, we went into a convenience store in Desoto County, just off Highway 78 about 55 minutes from Oxford. There were caps of several colleges for sale – two stacks for MSU, a couple of stacks of Tennessee, some Memphis, Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama.

But not a single Ole Miss cap. Maybe these places are selling out of Ole Miss stuff. That should be our hope. Maybe I should ask but usually don't.

Several years ago I had a new coach at Ole Miss tell me that he wondered if there were more State fans or Ole Miss fans in Mississippi. Said he saw more MSU gear on people in the state than Ole Miss gear. He assessed, and accurately so I think, that State fans just wear their team's gear more than Ole Miss people do ours. Just dress differently as a rule.

Bottom line: The discussion recently on the Spirit message board about whether there are more UM or MSU fans in this area or that area to me comes back to us – us Ole Miss people.

We need our fans to wear more Ole Miss clothing when they're out and about. We need to have more stickers on vehicles and signs in the yards and pictures on our walls at our businesses.

And if there is such a person who checks to see why there isn't much Ole Miss clothing or merchandise to purchase, whether in an upscale shopping district's sports store or in a truck stop, then what's up? What gives?

Why is that? Why shouldn't there be more Ole Miss stuff than any other school at a store in Collierville, Tenn., or Olive Branch, Miss. I don't mind admitting it bothers me. I'm sure it bothers you. It oughta bother everyone who has an interest in any and all things Ole Miss.

Maybe some of it has to do with the fact that while we have a mascot on paper, we don't have one on the field. That could be some of it as far as those who make and sell products. But that's certainly a story for another summer, right? No mascot talk allowed here, at least not now.

So as I complete this ramble, I present this to you to say again what we all basically already know:

Ole Miss is here and it's out there, too. But not enough people hear from us or see us or have access to us. And that should be corrected, whatever it takes.

Some have said over the years they feel this is the job of UM sports information. But that's called athletics media relations now. That's not their job, as the name implies.

This isn't to point out or look at any one department or area. It's Ole Miss-wide and an approach to all of this isn't limited to any specific area. It's almost a cultural thing, truthfully.

About a decade ago, Ole Miss spent thousands on a survey done by an Ole Miss alum's New York firm to tell us what we could do better. The result after months of study was that everything was basically great here, but we just kept it all too big a secret. We need to get the word out about Ole Miss and Oxford and the great things here, they said.

Who among us couldn't have come up with that conclusion?

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