Ole Miss and Mississippi State will battle in the annual Egg Bowl tomorrow, this year in Oxford. And for the fourth straight year an SEC team from Mississippi will be heading on to a bowl game after this game, and another will be done for the season. And for the 68th straight season, the SEC will not be on the line. To this day, the 1941 matchup remains the lone showdown with the Southeastern Conference championship up for grabs to the winner of the game. State would win the game in 1941; Ole Miss would go on to win six league championships over the next 22 years with little interference from Mississippi State. Over the past 47 years, however, the state of Mississippi has laid claim to zero SEC championships.
Mentioning all that, you wouldn’t know that little is often on the line from the back-and-forth that takes place within the Magnolia State the other 364 days of the year. And while the SEC may not be on the line, there is more than bragging rights to the winner. Last year, State was able to knock Ole Miss down a rung in the bowl order (from Capitol One to Cotton Bowl) with their win. If Ole Miss defeats State tomorrow, they may knock State down in the order from the Peach Bowl to the Liberty Bowl (although there are a lot of variables still to play out). And then there is always the impression it makes on recruits as the two schools battle for the top prep talent in a state that is very rich with athletes for its size.
But when you look at Ole Miss and State and the other nine public SEC institutions you can see why bragging rights and non-BCS bowls are usually what’s at stake. The simple fact is a state the size of Mississippi should have one SEC school, but the state of Mississippi has long had a desire to have too many institutions, government, bureaucracy, etc. so this should not be a surprise.
The state, of course, has 174 state legislators, when a total of 120 do the trick in California (we can argue not very well but I believe that has more to do about the people they elect and not their numbers). Neighboring states also tend to have less: 140 in Alabama, 135 in Arkansas, 132 in Tennessee.
Even 82 counties with their own county government is more than necessary. And the 152 school districts within those 82 counties, also more than necessary. Does Bolivar county really need six school districts within the shrinking county? I didn’t think so.
Knowing this, it would make sense that the state would also have two SEC schools. That doesn’t even take into account Southern Miss who has a sizeable following larger than most Conference USA in nearby states (i.e., UAB, Memphis, Tulane). And then there are three other D1 schools, although they play in the lower 1AA for football: Jackson State, Alcorn State, and Mississippi Valley State. They don’t necessarily take football talent from the SEC schools but they do take fans and (some) money. As for Haley Barbour’s hopes to consolidate them? I think we would see Bennie Thompson switch parties before that happens. And did I mention Delta State is a D2 power?
On State and Ole Miss, let’s look at some other SEC schools. There is one school in the states of Arkansas (pop: 2.9 million), Louisiana (pop: 4.5 million), Kentucky (4.3 million) and Tennessee (pop: 6.3 million). In the states of Georgia (pop: 9.8 million) and South Carolina (pop: 4.5 million), there is an SEC and ACC school. Florida (pop: 18.5 million) has just one SEC school along with two ACC schools. Alabama (pop: 4.7 million) is the only other state in SEC country with two public SEC schools although football fans in the Yellowhammer State are a rare breed probably not seen in the other 49 states.
Mississippi’s population? Just south of three million. So basically the size of Arkansas. Obviously demographics have changed since the SEC was founded and unlike the Congress there is no requirement for reapportionment every ten years. That means that while states like Georgia or Florida have grown by leaps and bounds, the state of Mississippi obviously hasn’t kept up and that makes it near impossible to regularly compete when the already limited resources are divided.
The athletic budgets for the likes of Florida or Alabama? In the neighborhood of $100 million. The size of Neyland Stadium? 103,000. As for State and Ole Miss, they have some work to do to reach those numbers. But…when you combine the athletic budgets you’re looking at a respectable $80 million. Combine the football fields and you are talking about the largest stadium in the country: 115,000. Combine the prep talent and you’re looking at more than a dozen four stars every year, easy.
But no, this is Mississippi, a state that prides itself on having more institutions than it needs. It would only make sense that there are two SEC schools in the state.