MSU working through tough economy

July 19, 2009

Danny P Smith -


STARKVILLE --┬áThe Mississippi State athletic department is taking the struggling economy seriously. 


Even though the nationwide financial downturn haven''t created any major issues at MSU, the athletic department is watching its spending and is trying to cut back. 


MSU Athletic Director Greg Byrne receives updates on expenses and how his athletic department is spending money on a regular basis. 


Athletic department officials said several measures have been taken to cut costs: Games are being scheduled closer to home, teams are taking buses on away trips instead of flying, the purchase of equipment is being adjusted, and consideration has been given to positions within the athletic department. 


MSU Senior Associate Athletic Director for Internal Operations Duncan McKenzie said the department is going through plans for reducing and implementing its budget. He sends a note out to coaches and leaves it up to them to see where they can cut back. 


There are few options open to the coaches. 


"Really the only places they have is going to be in travel," McKenzie said. "The other area would be in equipment purchases, and instead of (buying) three sets of uniforms, you get two. Instead of replacing equipment, try to get another year out of it. 


"It may be knowing when positions come open and whether you fill them or not, or it could be reducing the squad size and traveling more regional, busing instead of flying, playing more home games instead of away games. That makes it difficult to schedule sometimes." 


That''s where Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Affairs Scott Stricklin comes in. 


It''s Stricklin''s responsibility to help put together the schedules for football and basketball. 


Trying to keep the Bulldogs closer to home is a priority, but Stricklin said opportunities come up that make traveling necessary. 


The MSU men''s basketball team''s trip to Anaheim, Calif., on Dec. 12 to play UCLA in the John Wooden Classic is an example. 


Although California may be a long way to travel for a basketball game, Stricklin said the attention the Bulldogs will receive from the experience is worth it. 


"There is some financial benefit from playing in that game, which will help some of those costs and also this has a chance to be a special basketball team," Stricklin said. "The exposure of playing a team like UCLA out there will be helpful, so there are some circumstances where you might play a game where you have to travel a little bit further and spend that money." 


The UCLA game is an exception to the rule because MSU would like to stay at home as much as possible. 


Stricklin said there are several area schools MSU can travel to by bus, and he said the school will plan more games that way. 


"If we could get on a bus instead of an airplane, it would make a lot more sense, and that goes for all of our sports," Stricklin said. "It doesn''t matter if it''s football, basketball, tennis, or softball." 


Stricklin said MSU''s football schedules for the next two seasons are pretty much complete, and work on the next four or five are under way. 


One way the Bulldogs have cut travel -- and get two home games out of the situation -- is the recent "two-for-one" deal with the University of South Alabama. 


MSU and South Alabama play in Starkville in 2012 and 2016, while the Bulldogs and Jaguars tangle in Mobile, Ala., in 2014. 


The deal is considered a bonus for MSU because it gets two home games out of it and only has to make the short trip for a road game. 


"Whether we bus or fly to that game won''t be decided until later on, but even if you just fly to Mobile, that''s not an expensive flight compared to flying across country," Stricklin said. "That''s a fairly short trip." 


Stricklin said there are also plans for home-and-home football games with Memphis and UAB, with the thought Memphis and Birmingham, Ala., are quick trips for non-conference games. 


McKenzie said safety issues are the utmost concern when it comes to how the Bulldogs travel. 


"It''s something everyone is looking at," McKenzie said. "We don''t use vans anymore to travel. Most of the time we bus our teams. You don''t want to compromise safety, but you are looking for ways to cut." 


Even with the state of the economy, MSU football fans are anticipating the first season of coach Dan Mullen and have already bought up all of the east side upperdeck discounted "Top Dog" season tickets. Those tickets, which include all seven home games, cost $115 each. 


Earlier this week, the MSU ticket office announced 36,487 season tickets had been sold, less than 700 it sold last year with more than a month left until the season begins. 


Byrne appreciates the faith and financial support the fans continue to show the athletic program. 


"We are fortunate our fans are showing loyalty, and I think they are excited about what coach Mullen is bringing to the football team, and, obviously, with the job coach (Rick) Stansbury, coach (Sharon) Fanning and coach (John) Cohen are doing as well," Byrne said. "The financial foundation for our department is strong in season-ticket sales and Bulldog Club membership. We feel very fortunate it is going as well as it is considering everything else that''s going on with the economy."