“When does a tradition become an annoyance?”
That was LSU chancellor Michael Martin talking this week about Mississippi State fans’ penchant for clanging cowbells during football games.
The obvious answer, as MrSEC.com noted, is when it’s someone else’s tradition.
When it comes to the cowbells, few folks outside Mississippi see the quaint tradition’s charm. To most folks, it’s no different than those incessant vuvuzelas African soccer fans blow or those air horns that some idiot always blows at graduation — both of which are banned at SEC games.
But the cowbells, one of the SEC’s more controversial traditions, got a reprieve Friday when the conference presidents approved a one-year extension of an exception for MSU to the rule that bans artificial noisemakers in conference stadiums. The Other Bulldogs can keep their cowbells, but the league will come down harder on them if they don’t confine their ringing to between plays. Last year, the school was fined $5,000 for one infraction and an additional $25,000 when the MSU fans did it again. This year, if they clang during play it’s going to cost Mississippi State $50,000 per infraction.
MSU President Mark Keenum hailed the extension as a good day not just for the school but for “fans everywhere who believe traditions are an important part of the college football experience.”
Now, I’m as big a believer in traditions as you’ll find, especially when it comes to my alma mater. The Dawg Walk. Krypton Fanfare. The lone trumpeter playing before a game. The Larry Munson video showing Herschel running over Bill Bates. The chapel bell after a win. I love it all. Heck, when I was a freshman at UGA I wouldn’t even walk under the famed arch because of tradition. And I still holler “Dog food!” when the other team runs on the field because that’s what fans did when I first started going to Georgia football games.
But despite the heart-tugging tales of MSU fans having cowbells rung at their funerals, there’s a reason artificial noisemakers are banned during games: In a partisan setting, they give the home team even more of an advantage than the roar of the crowd can supply. And they’re definitely rung by MSU fans to try and disrupt the opposing team’s plays.
Is that any different from everyone in the stadium standing up and screaming and clapping and stomping as loudly as they can when the opponent’s running a crucial third-down play? Folks in Starkville would argue no, but the reality is that the noise made by cowbells and the like far exceeds what a crowd can come up with otherwise. It’s why the school bands have to stop playing before the ball is snapped.
So, what do you think? Are the cowbells a harmless tradition or an annoying and unfair advantage? Are there any other such traditions in college football you’d like to see banned or limited? And what are your favorite UGA traditions? Any new ones you’d like to start? Feel free to share …
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg