Mississippi State's relentless gauntlet of clanging cowbells stands easily among the most annoying gameday traditions for opposing fans, and therefore one of the best anywhere. Which is why, as long as they're not being used to assault Ole Miss fans, MSU officials and stadium security tend to take a lenient attitude toward the SEC's ban on artificial noisemakers. Unless the bearer is doing his best Gene Frenkle impression on his way up the ramps. Once you're at your seat, it's no bells barred.
And that is where the rest of the SEC has a problem:
When Southeastern Conference coaches, athletic directors and presidents gather in Destin, Fla., this week for the league's annual meetings, the issue closest to those wearing maroon will involve their fans' beloved cowbell.
A possible strengthening of the league's 36-year-old policy against artificial noisemakers is expected to surface. The presidents, ADs and coaches in favor of new regulations will say State is thumbing its noise at the league policy and that the bells give State an unfair noise advantage.
The idea of an "unfair advantage" at Davis-Wade Stadium seems ludicrous at first blush: In the first place, it's the second-smallest stadium in the conference with a capacity of just over 55,000; even with the cowbells at full clatter, the noise level doesn't approach the peak decibels of the 90,000-seat monsters at Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn and LSU. And in the second, the Bulldogs are just 14-26 in SEC games in Davis-Wade over the last decade, topping only Vanderbilt and Kentucky for home winning percentage in that span. They haven't won more than two conference games there in the same season since 2000.
Still, if you consider "home-field advantage" as "increased odds of winning compared to playing anywhere else," the anti-cowbell campaign makes more sense – yes, Mississippi State may still be a bad team in Starkville, but not nearly as bad as it is outside of Starkville:
The Bulldogs have been horrendous on the road – worse even than Vanderbilt. The lowly Commodores, along with MSU's annual cross-division "rival," Kentucky, accounted for four of their six wins away from Starkville through the decade (the other two came at Alabama in 2006, aka the Crooming of Tide coach Mike Shula, and at Auburn in 2007). 'Neath the cowbells, though, State is almost respectable, turning out multiple wins over Florida (2000, 2004) and Alabama (2000, 2007) and a 4-1 mark against hated Ole Miss, which the Bulldogs haven't beaten in Oxford since clinching their only division title there in 1998. The worst game of Tim Tebow's career came in Starkville last October, where the top-ranked Gators led by a mere field goal, 16-13, entering the fourth quarter. When you consider how bad Mississippi State has been on the road – especially over the course of a 23-game losing streak in SEC road games from 2000-06 – Davis-Wade Stadium was worth more than twice as much to its occupant as any other home venue in the conference over the last ten years.
I'm not sure how you'd begin to connect that to cowbells, and it's just as likely the rest of the league is less concerned with cowbells at football games than at, say, 15,000-seat Dudy Noble Field, easily the largest baseball venue in the league. But I am certain, from personal experience, that it will take the Stasi to enforce any rule that intends to actually keep them out.
- - -
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.