By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Swing and miss in the three major sports, and fans become disgruntled.
That is how Ole Miss athletics director Pete Boone characterizes frustration by groups of fans and contributors to the school’s athletics department who have expressed their views in different ways.
Since March, a group referring to itself as “Rebels Nationwide” has met with the chancellor Dan Jones with its three-point plan for improvement.
Nationwide says its group consists of 161 members in 12 states. One letter lists Robert Dunlap of Batesville as a member of the group.
A group calling itself “Forward Rebels” describes a “culture of apathy” at its website Forwardrebels.org and says its mission is to “energize and unify the fan base through increased participation, education, exchange of information, and communication with the Ole Miss athletic administration.”
Earlier this week an email circulated that contained 37 points and was critical of Boone more than it offered avenues for change.
The apparent grass roots movement of discontent comes after a sports year in which the Rebels went 4-8 in football and failed to reach the NCAA tournaments for men’s or women’s basketball or baseball.
The Rebels also lost to rival Mississippi State in each of those sports.
“Ten of our 18 sports reached postseason, but that’s not the total measuring stick. We expect football, basketball and baseball to play for something significant,” Boone said. “That comes from the frustration of the past year, no question about it. It also comes from losing to your rival team. Those are scars that don’t heal easily.”
The email challenged Boone on several fronts, among them his handling of certain broadcast contracts, his hiring practices and relationship with contributors.
“I think it comes from frustration with the past year. I don’t think there’s any question about it,” Boone said.
In spite of disappointing results on the field, football season ticket sales are ahead of last year’s pace.
Membership and contributions to the UMAA Foundation, the fund-raising arm of the athletics department, are at an all-time high, Boone said.
And later this summer the school will announce a campaign hopeful of raising $125-150 million. The effort’s top two priorities will be a new basketball arena and north end zone expansion of the football stadium.
“I feel strongly about a positive trend for Ole Miss athletics,” Boone said.
Boone is under contract through 2014 at an annual salary of $429,287.
He believes he has a strong relationship with private donors to athletics.
“I do, but I don’t want to get into a situation where I’m saying things about myself. I don’t take it personally. If you’re in a position of having to make tough decisions, there’s bound to be some build-up of folks that just don’t like him or her. That comes with the territory,” he said.
Boone has been the AD at Ole Miss for 13 years over two tenures. He returned to the job in the summer of 2002.
He contends that he makes those tough decisions with interests of Ole Miss only in mind.
Regardless of how people feel about him, he says much of his attention is on making certain the school is within the boundaries of NCAA guidelines.
That wasn’t the case in 1994 when was hired the first time.
“Y’all have been reading about all the issues out there. That’s not going to happen at Ole Miss. We’re going to have institutional control.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600