Has There Been A Better Time To Be A Michigan State Football Fan?
Michigan State is coming off an 11-2 record in Mel Tucker's second season.
The Spartans are 2-0 vs. Michigan under Tucker.
They're recruiting better than they have in years at Michigan State.
It's a good time to be an MSU football fan. And yet, none of those aforementioned points may represent as big of a deal as the change in the administration of Michigan State's athletic department.
In his first year as athletic director in East Lansing, Alan Haller has ushered in huge paradigm shifts for Michigan State sports. Aside from changing out several coaches in non-revenue sports, Haller has brought perspectives and ideas to MSU's athletic department that, as recently as just a few years ago, would have been unthinkable.
Last week, MSU announced it was increasing tailgating hours for certain game times on football Saturdays this coming fall. The changes are:
- For 3:30 and 4 p.m. kickoffs, lots will open at 7 a.m. Previously, lots opened at 9 a.m. for these game times.
- For night games, lots will open at 11 a.m. Previously, lots opened at 1 p.m. for night games.
This is a seismic shift in the way athletics are administered at Michigan State. If you ask Spartan fans about changes made to tailgating over the years, they'll likely only have negative memories to offer: MSU banning alcohol at Munn Field, MSU completing banning tailgating from Munn Field, etc.
Several years ago, someone who's connected — and who I know and trust — told me that he had heard from MSU athletic officials that their long-term plan for football tailgating at Michigan State was "to take back our campus." I remember thinking to myself that that was the exact opposite mindset a school should have. Football is the best recruitment and fundraising tool a university can have. Michigan State knows that and has benefited greatly from its football fans over the years. And here were high-level administrators within MSU athletics gloating that they were actively working to dampen the fan experience.
That was several years and several athletic directors ago. There's a new sheriff in town now who understands that what's good for fans is good for business. And, in case you haven't been paying attention, college sports is big business.
About a month ago, Haller went public with ideas and designs that heretofore I never thought I would hear an administrator at MSU utter. In interviews with multiple media outlets, Haller said he wants to sell alcohol at Spartan Stadium. His saying that on the record was as monumental as if Vladimir Putin held a press conference to announce Russia's interest in joining NATO. It simply was something no other MSU administrator would say.
What's more, Haller admitted selling alcohol at MSU football games may not be a huge boon to business, but he said he wanted to do it anyway because it's better for the fan experience. Again, just a few years ago the thought of an MSU athletic director ever saying something like this was unfathomable.
Over the years we've been told no such development could ever happen at MSU because of public safety issues. But Haller pointed to a study and his firsthand experiences at other Big Ten schools where alcohol is sold, saying that alcohol sales actually drive down public safety issues and instances of problem drinking at college football games.
It will still take legislative change at the state level for Haller's vision for alcohol sales at Spartan Stadium to become reality, but the fact that he wants to do it is proof positive that the leadership at MSU athletics have undergone a drastic and much-needed upgrade.
Things look promising on the field for the Spartans. But it's an even brighter future because of the attitudinal and cultural shift among MSU's athletic department.
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