By David Brandt/The Associated Press
STARKVILLE — Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen’s message to students over the latest cowbell flap: You don’t have to like the messenger, but you’d better respect the message.
“We’ve got to respect the bell so we can keep this tradition alive,” the second-year coach told several hundred students on campus Tuesday night.
Mullen’s plea comes one day after it came out that Mississippi State had been told it has violated the Southeastern Conference’s noisemaker policy. MSU athletic director Scott Stricklin said he expects the school to be fined, and the future of the cowbell at Davis Wade Stadium beyond this season is in serious doubt.
Since the 1970s, cowbells were deemed illegal noisemakers by the SEC, yet thousands of Mississippi State fans would sneak them into the stadium with few repercussions. But during the SEC’s most recent summer meetings, the conference made the cowbell legal with the stipulation that they are only used during dead ball moments — like timeouts, halftime and after scoring plays.
But many fans — especially in the student section — have ignored the rules.
Mullen says the SEC has the right to make rules as it sees fit, but he certainly understands the school’s passion for the cowbell — which has long been a symbol for school pride.
“How do you think they’d act at Ohio State if you told them you couldn’t dot the ‘i’ anymore?” Mullen said. “I think there’d be some passion up there about it. That’s what makes college football special — the traditions. It’s why it’s the greatest sport there is — the passion.”
Mississippi State has tried to curb the rogue cowbell ringers with multiple commercials on the stadium’s gigantic jumbotron, touting messages like “Ring Responsibly” and “Respect the Bell.” But when the game reaches tense moments, the sound of cowbells gets louder and louder.
The attempt at regulation has been widely panned by fans.
“You can’t tell fans how to cheer. Rules just cause rebellion,” MSU graduate student Peyton Groff said during the Sept. 25 game against Georgia. “Fan bases are built out of culture, not regulation.”
The Bulldogs, who recently jumped into the AP’s national rankings for the first time since 2001, have two more home games this season — one on Saturday against Kentucky and another on Nov. 20 against Arkansas. Stricklin said it’s imperative that fans understand that the SEC is watching, and that it’s decision on the cowbell could hinge on their behavior.
The SEC is scheduled to review the cowbell rule at this summer’s conference meetings.
Chad Bumphis, a sophomore from Tupelo who plays receiver for Mississippi State’s football team, said the players love the cowbell tradition. He also added that he didn’t think the extra noise generated a competitive advantage.
“We can’t even hear it,” Bumphis said. “If you can hear that on the field, then you’ve got bigger problems than cowbells. I honestly don’t know what’s bothering people.”