STARKVILLE — Decision day is looming at Mississippi State.
While fans were alerted to a new mobile ticketing service for sporting events beginning this fall with the 2020 football season in recent days, MSU Athletic Director John Cohen told The Dispatch Monday any decision regarding whether those fans will have the opportunity to use those tickets could come in the next few weeks.
Cohen, who previously told The Dispatch in June that a decision regarding fan attendance would have to be made somewhere around Aug. 1, doubled-down on that sentiment, though current numbers suggest things aren’t headed in a positive direction.
“We hope that things get better instead of worse,” he said regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “For right now, it’s not trending the way we want it to trend and we’re hopeful that trend can change.”
With MSU’s scheduled football season opener against New Mexico on Sept. 5 just more than a month away, Cohen noted it’s most likely going to be up to the Starkville city government on what kind of crowds are potentially allowed at Davis Wade Stadium and not the Southeastern Conference.
Having met with MSU President Mark E. Keenum on Monday morning, Cohen also said he and the university president have remained in contact with local legislators on the subject and that he expects schools will have to make a decision on fan attendance on their own rather than a conference-wide mandate.
“I wouldn’t anticipate that capacity is something that the league is going to be extremely, heavily involved in,” he said.
Should MSU’s attendance be drastically affected by legislators or the ongoing pandemic, there stands to be a major financial hit to the athletic department. According to records obtained by The Dispatch, $14.2 million of the nearly $17 million in ticket revenue MSU reported to the NCAA during the 2017-18 school year came from the Bulldog football program — equating to almost 14 percent of the school’s total athletic department revenue. Thus, if Davis Wade Stadium is limited to between 50 and 25 percent capacity this fall, the MSU athletic department could take a hit of up to $10.6 million.
Other potential issues brought on by a limited football season includes the scheduled renovations on Humphrey Coliseum. Cohen said Monday the project, which was estimated to cost in the $50 million range, could see delays in its construction schedule.
“What could be on pause is the actual construction and it’s going to depend largely on whether we have a football season or not, quite frankly,” he said. “That’s something we’re all waiting on. That’s something we all anticipate. As soon as we, a), know if we’re going to have a football season and, b), to what level we’re going to be able to have a football season, I think there’s no question that’s going to affect our construction schedule.”
In an effort to get ahead of the curve and to help eliminate hand-to-hand touching amidst coronavirus concerns, MSU did introduce the aforementioned contactless ticketing system on Monday as a new alternative to physical stubs season ticket holders previously received.
Cohen said the project, spearheaded by Executive Senior Associate Athletic Director of the Bulldog Club & Ticket Operations Mike Richey and Deputy Athletic Director of Development Bo Hemphill, has been in the works for a while and will allow patrons more flexibility in their game day experiences. As part of the new efforts, ticket holders were also offered the chance to opt out of their 2020 season tickets in exchange for a credit toward 2021 tickets or a refund.
“The touchless entry we have now in all walks of life,” he said. “Anyone who’s ever used air travel is fully aware of a similar type of system. So we thought it’s the right time.”
At present, circumstances for a normal football season have become increasingly bleak in recent weeks as the Big Ten and Pac-12 have already shifted to conference only schedules, but Cohen preached patience as there is still time, albeit not much, before any major motions must be made at MSU and in the SEC.
“I think it’s still a little too early to tell, although we know some decisions are going to have to be made sooner than later,” he said. “… It’s getting closer, there’s no question about it. More information is better and we’re gonna use all the information at our disposal to make the best decision we can for the Southeastern Conference.”
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @bportnoy15.
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