Mississippi State University sponsors a variety of sports ranging from football and basketball to golf and cross country. However, gymnastics is one prevalent sport MSU has yet to adopt. The sport requires high precision, intense training and immense talent to both safely and gracefully execute the skills and acrobatics required, but overall, gymnastics is underrated and overshadowed by larger-name sports like football, especially in Mississippi where college gymnastics programs cease to exist.
Of the 14 schools in the Southeastern Conference, eight incorporate the sport in their athletics programs, yet none of these programs are located in Mississippi. Once operations return to normal and the COVID-19 pandemic no longer threatens the well-being of others, MSU should make history by becoming the first university in Mississippi to adopt a college gymnastics program.
The state of Mississippi contains multiple independent gymnastics programs which competitively train athletes to harness their strengths and perform skills on four training events — vault, bars, beam and floor. Unfortunately, many Mississippian gymnasts pursuing the sport for college scholarships are forced to seek college recruitment elsewhere because of the present lack within their home state.
According to Ernest Bowker of The Vicksburg Post, over 700 gymnasts from independent gymnastics groups within Mississippi participated in the 2019 Mississippi USA State Gymnastics Championship meet. Despite the hundreds of Mississippian gymnasts training and competing in the annual state championships, none of these athletes have the opportunity to further their gymnastics careers at Mississippi colleges because their chances of in-state competition at the collegiate level are currently nonexistent.
One of the Mississippi groups which competes in state championships is the independent gymnastics company Dawg House Gymnastics, located here in Starkville, Mississippi. The gymnasts who train here and live within 20 minutes of MSU would ultimately have to enroll out-of-state to pursue any dreams of college gymnastics and scholarships.
The prospect of a college gymnastics team in Mississippi would allow local, independent gymnastics companies like Dawg House Gymnastics to flourish since young gymnasts would have a more realistic and accessible college sports career to aspire toward. Having an MSU gymnastics program would better secure these young athletes' dedication toward attending MSU rather than forcing them to resort to out-of-state colleges for gymnastics scholarships.
Likely a major concern with implementing such a program is finance, but according to the Official Website of Mississippi State Athletics, the university has spent $68 million on the new Dudy Noble Baseball Field, $3.6 million on football locker rooms and $8 million on the MSU Tennis Pavilion for a combined total of roughly $79.6 million all within a two-year span. MSU also plans on renovating the Humphrey Coliseum in the near future, so these $79 million expenses are likely to increase.
As evident in the numbers, the university could push for a college gymnastics program. Though sports like basketball, football and tennis are currently more renowned in the MSU athletic department and naturally acquire more attention for funding, gymnastics is a largely popular sport in the SEC colleges in which it is implemented and attains such an audience where millions of dollars in renovations and constructions for one sport may be justified.
According to Brandon Berrio with LSU Sports, LSU broke the SEC gymnastics attendance record in 2018 with over 12,000 fans in attendance for one gymnastics meet and an average of over 10,000 fans per meet. Meanwhile, the National Collegiate Athletic Association's 2019 records show MSU's attendance record for basketball, another coliseum sport, as just short of 8,000 average fans per game. MSU's record for producing quality athletes in a variety of sports proves the university's ability to jump in line with top SEC gymnastics programs like Louisiana State University too. Additionally, MSU gymnastics could expect decent attendance results once Bulldog fans begin to appreciate the sport as part of the university's seasonal sporting routines.
As with any uncharted domain, the startup for a new program is always daunting and uncertain, especially when it comes to altering a university's athletics department; however, with the popularity of women's gymnastics at SEC universities across Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Florida, MSU should consider taking the leap and joining in college gymnastics like its neighboring SEC rivals.
Based on the numbers and popularity of college gymnastics at schools like LSU, the potential costs to implement a gymnastics program would balance out with steady attendance, a wider recruitment base for stellar athletes and simple fan loyalty devoted to supporting the potential Bulldog gymnasts at MSU sporting events.
I am not saying MSU needs a gymnastics program immediately, especially with COVID-19 still persistently impacting our day-to-day lives, but the incorporation of gymnastics at MSU is certainly worth considering in the future when the health and safety of others is not compromised by a pandemic.
With a college gymnastics program, MSU has both the opportunity to create another strong program in its athletics department and the chance to become the first university in Mississippi to offer gymnastics in their sports roster.