In early January, MSU erected a series of new billboard advertisements featuring the slogan, "Play with the Best," and a picture of football players celebrating their 2011 Egg Bowl victory over rival Ole Miss. One of those billboards went up in Oxford, on Jackson Ave. near the Ole Miss campus.
The MSU compliance department, in a Feb. 3 letter to the SEC, reported that the billboards were "developed" contrary to NCAA bylaws.
The violation was "discovered" after school officials saw media reports about the billboards, including a story in the Daily Journal quoting Chad Thomas, MSU's assistant athletics director for marketing.
In talking about the billboard campaign, Thomas said it was a recruiting tool and that the football office had input on where to put the billboards, which also appeared in Aberdeen, Biloxi, Clinton and Morton.
up and down
That violated NCAA bylaw 126.96.36.199, which prohibits advertising or promotional material "designed to solicit the enrollment of a prospective student-athlete." All five of the "Play with the Best" billboards were taken down within a couple of weeks or so of going up.
At the time, MSU officials said it was simply time for the billboards to come down, and not because they constituted an NCAA violation, as reported by the Oxford Eagle in January. Officials did say, however, that they were looking into any possible violations.
Per normal procedure, MSU has imposed penalties on itself. From now on, the compliance office must review all future billboards for content and location before they are purchased; no coaches or sport-specific personnel will be consulted or have input on billboards or any other marketing-related activities; and Thomas will be required to attend an NCAA regional rules seminar on recruiting and enforcement.
The SEC has not responded to MSU's report. A league spokesman declined to comment. MSU athletics director Scott Stricklin also declined comment.
The billboards cost MSU $3,200 and were part of a larger $150,000 billboard campaign.