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Walters column: Prep football championship games finally on move

 

Scott Walters

 

After months - actually more like years - of speculation, the high school football state championship games are on the move. 

 

A formal announcement is expected from the Mississippi High School Activities Association Monday. However, it appears the heavily-rumored plan to move the six final games of the prep football season to the campuses of Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Southern Mississippi appears to be a done deal. 

 

Published reports indicate it will be a five-year deal with the 2014 and 2016 games at MSU's Davis Wade Stadium, the 2015 and 2017 games at Ole Miss' Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and the 2018 games at USM's M.M. Roberts Stadium. Southern Miss will also earn hosting rights to the 2015 and 2017 Shrine All-Star Classic Game between all-stars teams from Mississippi and Alabama. 

 

The best way to react to this news -- Finally!!!!! 

 

TIME IS NOW 

 

When the MHSAA created the five-team playoff system in the early 1980s, the state championship games were contested at Mississippi College's Robinson-Hale Stadium in Clinton -- still the present site of the five state championship games for the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools. As the MHSAA began to draw crowds too large for MC to handle, the state championship games were moved to Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson. The Vet will see its state championship run end after 22 seasons. 

 

Over the years, the MHSAA appears to be a body with several strong ideas but it takes quite some time to implement them. 

 

Rumors of moving the state championship games have been around for several years. Obviously, it takes some time to put the correct contract together, making sure all interests from all sides are met. 

 

Still, the MHSAA has stood firm in saying nothing for quite some time. This despite the fact that Mississippi State athletic officials have talked openly about plans to host the 2014 state championship games. It is safe bet that the universities will supply video personnel, public address people, stats crews and all of the kinds of things you need to run a really top-flight event. 

 

Apparently, we will finally learn so much more Monday. 

 

For the participants, this will be a win-win situation. Yes, the South Mississippi teams will have a little more travel. The original plans to not include USM in the rotation were also flawed. However, this will be a best-case scenario for everyone. 

 

Obviously, it is exciting to be playing on the same playing surface that features Southeastern Conference and Conference USA games every weekend. 

 

Memorial Stadium was badly outdated. Some of the touch-up -- such as recent addition on video boards -- were nice but obviously paled in comparison to anything anyone will see at either MSU, USM or Ole Miss. 

 

By playing at on-campus locations, players and coaches will have adequate dressing facilities. Players will play on fields kept in top-notch condition. Fans will have easy access in and out of stadiums used to handling large crowds. Each university will be allowed to out-source security and parking issues to groups that handle such during the regular season. 

 

Since ownership of Memorial Stadium was transferred to Jackson State University, stadium upkeep has always been a question. The playing conditions deteriorated rapidly during the course of a six-game weekend. Some years weather conditions have led to even worse playing conditions and conditions to be quite honest not worthy of deciding a true champion. 

 

Many fans have flocked to message boards to discuss the recruiting advantages of hosting the state championship games. The big winner in that category may be Southern Miss. Since its inception in 1988, the Mississippi-Alabama all-star game has been played at locations throughout the state of Alabama. The new contract for the game will involve a rotation between the two states. Southern Miss will be welcoming 70 or so prospects to its campus. All-star week includes practice sessions and dinners. The players will spend the entire week on the Hattiesburg campus, as opposed to state championship participants who will bus in, play a game and leave. While the six games represent the best of this state, the games will also feature numerous sophomores, juniors and some seniors, who will not aspire to play or do not have the ability to play on the Division I level. 

 

With Jackson State running the stadium and MHSAA officials running the event, the state championship games have been lacking in several areas. Many of those problems should be resolved in the years ahead and players, coaches and fans should see a much-better, more fan-friendly product on the playing fields. 

 

OTHER MOVES 

 

Plans are also expected to be announced to move the high school basketball state championships. The state championship tournament is expected to expand in each of the six classifications, so it would not be surprising to see more than one location announced. 

 

The Alabama High School Activities Association moved its state championship Super Six games to the campuses of Alabama and Auburn, beginning with the 2009 season. Again, the AHSAA left Legion Field in Birmingham -- a veteran stadium, whose purpose as hosting state championship events -- had long since come and gone. The AHSAA also entered into this arrangement with a five-year contract -- just like the MHSAA is expected to announce Monday. The deal has since been extended through the 2020 season. 

 

The MHSAA should generate the same positive vibes by pushing Memorial Stadium out of the picture. State championship games deserve state championship venues. 

 

With Jackson State openly discussing building its own facility on-campus, it appears the days of the Vet may indeed be numbered. However, for those of us who have attended a state championship game there, that is just fine. We will always have our memories. 

 

Scott Walters is a sports reporter for The Dispatch. He may be reached at swalters@cdispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.

 

Scott is sports copy editor and reporter

 

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