April 7, 2011 8:56:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Through the largest private gift in the history of Mississippi State University athletics, the football team will take a major step forward in its ability to compete in the country''s top conference.
On Wednesday, MSU announced a $12 million gift from the Seal Family Foundation of Gulfport to help fund a football facility that will house a new weight room, coaches'' offices, and treatment rooms. The facility will be adjacent to MSU''s practice fields on campus.
Lee and Leo Seal, twin brothers and sons of the late Leo Seal Jr., will make the donation in honor of their father, a former MSU football player and president of Hancock Bank.
Seal Jr. provided the lead funding for the Leo Seal M-Club Building at Davis Wade Stadium and was a long-time Bulldog Club contributor.
"My father and grandfather both had a love for Mississippi State and an appreciation for the opportunity to play football in the Southeastern Conference and represent their state," Lee Seal said. "My brother and I hold that same passion for our alma mater, and we''re excited to help the university and our football program."
The gift brings the total donations to the project to $17 million, which includes gifts from 35 other families, MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin said.
The total cost of project is between $20-25 million. The $5 million window depends on practice field renovations, which are a part of the project but can be can be done as a stand-alone project.
A start date for construction, which will last 12-14 months, hasn''t been set. Stricklin and the Bulldog Club are looking to secure the additional funding.
"Aggressively speaking, you''d love to start before the end of the calendar year," Stricklin said. "I think we can do that. I think we have people ready to step up and help us get to that point."
The 80,000-square foot facility will centralize every aspect of the football program. The current setup has coaches'' offices in Bryan Athletic Building, weight training in Holliman Athletic Facility and in the indoor practice field at the Palmeiro Center. While the Bulldogs still will use the Palmeiro Center, the new football facility will be a short walk compared to the current setup.
The facility is expected to have an impact on recruiting, as potential student-athletes will have a premier facility that will house every aspect of their football career at MSU.
MSU coach Dan Mullen, who led the Bulldogs to a 9-4 record and 52-14 win against the University of Michigan in the Gator Bowl last season, said he has shown recruits renderings of the facility by architecture firm HNTB to recruits.
"I think college football has that 20-year cycle, and our vision is to make sure we have a facility that looking 20 years into the future we''re still competitive with everybody in the Southeastern Conference," Mullen said.
The plans for the football facility have been in the works since Mullen arrived two years ago. He said his approach to taking MSU''s football program to the next level wasn''t so much about how his likes and dislikes compared to other schools, but more about how MSU would move forward with its resources and planning.
"I wanted to see where we''re at, what our needs were and what really fit us as a university," Mullen said. "Every program and athletic department is going to be unique in how they do things."
With the announcement of the football facility, discussion about stadium expansion continues after a breakout season. Season tickets sales are 2,000 renewals ahead of where they were last year.
The price difference between the projects -- possibly three to four times more for north end zone expansion -- and potential bonding plans to finance stadium expansion make a target date difficult to set. The athletic department would have to go through the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning before finalizing plans. MSU also needs to be sure its fans will be able to meet the demand for more seating.
Stricklin said the Bulldog Club hasn''t started soliciting money for that project, though they''re "still moving forward" in planning.
"Because you''re gonna be generating revenue off seats, you have the opportunity to do some long-term bonding and basically borrow some money for that," Stricklin said. "This (football facility) is a privately funded project because you don''t have the opportunity to generate revenue off this project. It''s parallel paths, but a different way to get there."
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