September 25, 2009 7:43:00 AM
Mississippi State stresses the importance of scheduling in-state schools in football.
MSU took a huge step in that direction Thursday morning by signing a contract to play Southern Miss.
The schools held a press conference at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in Jackson to announce plans to play each other to kick off the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
After MSU plays host to Southern Miss at Davis Wade Stadium on Aug. 30, 2014, the teams will play at M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg on Sept. 5, 2015.
Each team will get $200,000 when it''s the road team, while the home team will keep the entire gate.
MSU Athletic Director Greg Byrne began pursuing the idea of playing USM again in the summer of 2008 when he took over the full-time job. He said playing Southern Miss is the right thing to do, especially after having a good experience opening against Jackson State this season.
"We anticipate the games with Southern Mississippi to generate similar enthusiasm," Byrne said.
The schools have played each other 27 times, but not since 1990. The Golden Eagles lead the series 14-12-1, including two NCAA-mandated forfeits by the Bulldogs.
Byrne heard the pros and cons about scheduling Southern Miss from fans, but the interest is the reason it is a good idea for the programs to play each other.
"What cannot be debated is the atmosphere this game generated the last two times it was played on the two schools'' campuses," Byrne said. "In (1989 and 1990), the games were played in front of sellout crowds and were decided by field goals in the waning moments, both won by Mississippi State."
MSU President Dr. Mark Keenum remembers the excitement he felt attending Mississippi State-Southern Miss football games. Now, he said fans, alumni, and citizens across the state will get to experience that feeling.
"What a great way to kick off the college football season in Mississippi," Keenum said. "These games will be a wonderful beginning to the year."
MSU coach Dan Mullen said opening with the Golden Eagles will "increase the focus in the summertime and offseason conditioning" for his team and should create excitement throughout the state.
"We want to have those in-state rivalries, and I think it''s great for the people of Mississippi and it''s great for football in Mississippi," Mullen said. "You have people excited at every level."
Southern Miss Athletic Director Richard Giannini said rivalries "make any sport strong" and "the fans are the real beneficiaries."
The series doesn''t extend past the two games, but Giannini said he would be open to playing more in the future.
Byrne said MSU will continue its efforts to schedule regional and in-state opponents, including Alcorn State, Mississippi Valley State, and Jackson State. He said all schedules are nearly complete through the 2016 season.
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