The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Athletic success brings vital component to MSU

If you saw the front page of The Reflector last Tuesday, I do not need to tell you our football team is ranked No. 1 in the nation for the first time in history. Adding to the frenzy, our quarterback Dak Prescott is the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy award. In the midst of this excitement, it is important to pause and reflect upon the significance a successful football team has for the university as a whole — particularly with respect to its top priority, education.

While it is true the full college experience goes well beyond academics, let’s not forget the whole point of going to college is to get an advanced education. Extracurricular activities, student organizations, social networking and (now especially) cheering on the Bulldogs are all essential aspects of being a student at Mississippi State University, but foremost should always be learning. 

Steve Turner, professor and department head of agriculture economics, is the faculty athletic representative. He said students should enjoy the success of the football team with the perspective that individual student success is measured in the classroom.

“At the end of the day, the measure of success for you is how well you did in your classes. An auxiliary to that is how well our football team is doing,” Turner said. “Having said that, enjoy it. This has never happened before. Coach (Dan) Mullen and the players have been preparing for this for years, so let’s applaud them.”

The meaning of our football team’s success goes far beyond entertainment and school pride at the individual level though. Jerry Gilbert, Provost and Executive Vice President of MSU, said the football team gives us exposure on the national stage.

“The MSU football team carries the whole university before the national audience when it competes,” Gilbert said. “It is a symbol of MSU, and as such, students, faculty, staff, alumni and supporters take pride in seeing our team strive for and achieve success on the field.”

Scott Stricklin, Athletic Director of MSU, said the football team has recently provided invaluable marketing worth for the university.

“The exposure the university has gotten over the last two or three weeks is hard to calculate,” Stricklin said. “It would certainly be hard to pay for that kind of exposure.”

According to Stricklin, MSU has a lot to be proud of academically. He noted MSU is one of the top research institutions in the country, especially among public schools, and one of the most important benefits of the increasing success of our athletic teams is its ability to bring awareness of our great academic opportunities into the homes of people all across the nation. Gilbert said this phenomenon starts with the 30-second TV spot that runs during the games.

“This year they hear recent graduate Field Brown talk about academic and research achievements at MSU and how that can lead to individual student success such as being selected to be a Rhodes Scholar,” Gilbert said.

In addition to the marketing value the football team provides for the university, it is also able to contribute to the university as a whole in terms of revenue. Stricklin points out MSU’s athletic department is a self-supporting unit. This means the university does not spend money out of its general funds on sports, like football. Instead, the athletic department generates its own revenue and is able to give some of that money to the Education and General (E&G) budget of the university.

Turner said football games also provide an important forum for alumni networking, which can lead to financial contributions to the university.

“The alumni who give donations usually support both athletics and academics,” Turner said.

MSU sports teams also provide meaningful academic opportunities to the athletes on an individual level. Turner said many student athletes would go to college even without sports, but some could not go to college without the opportunities and scholarships available. In addition to scholarships, Turner points out the other forms of support available to student athletes.

“The athletic academic unit has study hall, tutoring and all kinds of services that are available to student athletes,” Turner said. 

He also pointed out athletes are subject to the requirements of NCAA rules. These academic requirements combined with the additional commitment to their teams requires student athletes to develop time management skills that will be useful throughout their lives. Counselors and advisors are in place to assist athletes in dealing with these extra responsibilities.

As evidence to the academic possibilities presented by athletic programs, former MSU football player Sam Latham was able to use his time as a student athlete to facilitate his goal of getting into medical school.

“I knew going into college that I wanted to go to medical school. That was my goal from day one,” Latham said. “Football was an amazing way to compliment my education. I learned many lessons that I would not have learned if I had not been a student-athlete. It was a great time, and those experiences have helped me many times in medical school.”

Latham pointed out being a student athlete forced him to carefully manage his time and focus on his priorities — namely education and football. Teamwork and perseverance are among the other values he gained from football.

“Probably the most important lesson I learned was teamwork and camaraderie. Without those, football, as well as life, is rather difficult,” Latham said. “Football teaches you to push through even when situations get tough, and that helps tremendously each day.” 

According to Latham, other students can take inspiration from the student athletes competing on the football field to keep working hard even when life gets tough. 

Our students can align with the efforts of the football team by enjoying the success the program has in a manner that represents our university well. Fans are not responsible for wins in the same sense players are, but Coach Mullen has often spoken of the important role our student section plays. Our students should cheer on our Bulldogs with the same relentless perseverance our players display on the field. This should be done in a responsible manner by ringing cowbells until the opposing center is over the ball and then switching to yelling — thus eliminating unnecessary penalization to our athletic program. Our fans should also represent our university proudly by providing a welcoming atmosphere for the visitors.

A successful football team provides much more to this university than entertainment. It spreads awareness of our excellent academic institution across the nation, provides revenue to the university as a whole, unites students and alumni for networking and expands our pool of students by extending academic opportunities to athletes. MSU students should stand together with pride in the recent success of our sports teams and the longstanding academic tradition they compliment.

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Athletic success brings vital component to MSU