NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Piling a bunch of people in a car and going to a famous destination is how a lot of great tales begin.
For Mississippi State University students and recent graduates, bowl games represent the perfect excuse for that classic college road trip story.
The Bulldogs program qualifying for back-to-back postseason berths has given college students two straight trips to experience another valuable memory of not only the finale of a college football season but also what is possibly the final trip of their academic careers.
“It’s the thing we talk about — creating experiences — all the time as a staff and a department. That’s not just for our student athletes but also for our fans and student body as well,” MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin said.
For 24-year-old Chris Herring, a Starkville native who now lives and works at an accounting firm in Jackson, New Year’s Day 2011 holds his best college memory before getting his master’s degree in accounting from MSU.
“I did not know a single friend that did not go to Jacksonville, (Fla.),” Herring said. “Think about this — you’re in a car with people for 10, 11 or 12 hours cranking your favorite pump-up music, getting ready to see them in your first bowl game. What could be better than that?”
MSU Student Association President Rhett Hobart said he was unsure what the MSU student population would be at LP Field tonight for the Music City Bowl (5:40 p.m., ESPN) but estimated the number to be more than 2,000.
MSU students flood Music City
Hobart, who arrived in a car with five other MSU students Thursday afternoon, was a key figure in instituting a student ticket lottery Dec. 7 at the Humphrey Coliseum where 500 tickets were handed out.
“What we’ve liked about the process is by allowing students to come into the Hump in groups of 50 people, then it allows folks to be guaranteed to sit near their friends during the bowl game,” Hobart said. “I think the road games that students are lucky enough to attend or the bowl game give us in college a trip that we can look back at fondly. That’s what the social college experience is all about.”
Mississippi State announced earlier this month that the school sold out its 12,500-ticket allotment with several thousand other fans going through the Music City Bowl website and outside agencies to secure seats.
Music City Bowl President Scott Ramsey said to The Dispatch on Thursday that he expected at least 55,000 fans at LP Field tonight. He said MSU was given additional tickets to sell out beyond the normal 10,000 allotment while Wake Forest University fell short of its initial allotment.
One off the wish list
“To have Mississippi State this year is really one off our wish list that we’ve had high up for a while, and we’re real excited about it,” Ramsey said. “It gives a lot of fans a chance to drive up and be a part of our downtown scene. I think their fans enjoy Nashville as the Music City. It’s not only around the Christmas decorations but the music themes and our New Year’s Eve party and things like that.”
Herring said he was hoping MSU would be selected for its first trip to the Music City Bowl as compared to other middle-tiered postseason destinations.
“I, along with my friends, are State fans so if it was the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, we would’ve probably drove down for the game, but we wouldn’t have gotten a hotel or gone downtown the night before,” Herring said. “That’s the difference. Last year and even this year represent real road trips for you and your friends to experience. That’s why we love what State has going now.”
Hobart, who plans to attend graduate school for a master’s degree in sports administration, said another factor that promoted student participation is the way MSU officials, like a lot of other college campus leaders, have embraced social network programs such as Twitter and Facebook to inform the student body of upcoming events.
“I can tell you the night after Mississippi State defeated Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl once again, I started to get hundreds of tweets about how can we as students get tickets and that’s just what Coach Mullen has brought to this community,” Hobart said. “To me, that is just a major way we can be approachable to the entire student body. The fact that people like Scott Stricklin and (MSU Senior Associate Athletic Director Bulldog Club for Ticket Operations) Mike Richey have embraced social media is why students are excited.”
Richey, who is a senior executive of MSU’s Bulldog Club, has said one of the first things students do when they become MSU graduates is join the club so they can pre-order tickets to postseason games.
Stricklin, a graduate of MSU, was seen in August passing out breakfast for students camped out in the Junction tailgate area in Starkville for season tickets. The goal of pleasing fans with the bowl game in Nashville has exceeded his expectations, he said.
“We took pre-orders for four different bowl sites, and while we had good response for all of them, Nashville we had the most response for,” Stricklin said. “I think that’s indicative our folks are excited. Much like they were excited to go to Jacksonville last year, they’re excited to go to Nashville and a place we’ve not been on the bowl scene in a town they’re familiar with. I don’t know that there could be a better situation, a better spot we could go where our fans could get there.”