The bromide, “wait til next year,” is a familiar refrain for fans of Mississippi’s collegiate football who, if their favorite team is losing, hope for a better future.
This year it has taken on a new dimension, encompassing economic factors and partying as well as winning and losing seasons on the gridiron.
Thanks to the coronavirus, this is turning out to be the weirdest football season in history or at least since World War II.
Ole Miss fans, many of whom have declared during a bad season, “we might lose the game but we never lose a party,” are banned this year from tailgating in the Grove.
The stadium can only be filled to 25 percent capacity with a bunch of restrictions that make it not worth attending in the opinion of some season ticket holders.
That doesn’t mean there is no partying.
Makeshift “tailgating” is scattered around the area as small groups get together for what they call watch parties, but it’s nothing like it normally is.
Making this fall even more wistful, at least in North Mississippi, is that the September weather has been unusually cool, compared to last year when it was exceedingly warm the first part of the season.
Aside from the fun part of a usual fall in a college town, the economies of Oxford and Starkville are taking a hit because of the lack of visitors pouring in for home football games. City sales taxes are bound to be down.
It began when baseball season was cancelled in the spring and will be exacerbated during football season when large crowds would have arrived in a normal season.
It’s not just the hotels, bed and breakfasts, condo rentals, restaurants and bars that are affected.
A clothing merchant in Oxford told me last year that his biggest sales weekends of the year occur when Ole Miss is hosting teams like Texas A&M, LSU and Alabama. Those visitors bring money to town and they spend it.
Hattiesburg, home of the University of Southern Mississippi, is a much larger metropolitan area than Oxford and Starkville, and USM usually draws fewer fans to its stadium than the SEC schools. So, Hattiesburg probably isn’t missing football fan revenue as much as the North Mississippi schools, but it has to be affected some.
Meanwhile, in Jackson — where college football isn’t the boon it once was when Ole Miss and Mississippi State hosted the likes of Notre Dame, Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, Southern Miss and each other at Veterans Memorial Stadium — they’re also looking forward to next year.
Jackson State University, which has seen its season postponed until spring because of the pandemic, has hired colorful NFL Hall of Famer Deion “Prime Time” Sanders as its football coach.
According to an article in the Clarion Ledger, fans are already planning to head to Jackson for his inaugural season.
Rickey Thigpen, president and CEO of Visit Jackson, says attendance at JSU games for previous seasons hovered anywhere from 15,000 to 35,000 people, If the attendance were to increase by 50 percent, he said it would be substantial not only for the university, but for hotels and restaurants in the area as well.
Sanders, who wants to be known as “Coach Prime,” joins two other high profile personalities in the Mississippi coaching ranks — Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss and Mike Leach at Mississippi State. Both of them are in their inaugural seasons at the Mississippi schools.
Mississippi State got off to a great start Saturday, defeating defending national champion LSU, and the Ole Miss offense looked good in losing to Florida which may vie for the national championship this year, judging from how they looked Saturday.
State and Ole Miss would probably fill their stadiums and tailgating spots their next home games under normal conditions.
Who knows what the rest of this year will bring, let alone 2021? No one imagined this time last year what 2020 would be like.
But, all things considered, it is still tempting to say “wait til next year.”