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MHSAA considering new sites for football championships

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi’s high school football championship games could be coming to a stadium — or university — near you.

The Mississippi High School Activities Association is open to exploring other sites for the organization’s six football title games, which will be played for the 20th straight year this week at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson.

“We’re not just tied down to the Jackson area,” said Don Hinton, the MHSAA’s new executive director who took over this summer. “For the future, we’re looking anywhere in this state that would like to host. A lot of states move their venues around, sometimes at universities.”

Mississippi has three major college football teams — Mississippi State, Mississippi and Southern Miss — with stadiums seating between 36,000-60,000, all logical spots for the games.

“It would be something we’d be interested in looking into,” Hinton said.

Hinton, though, did not rule out the possibility of returning to 60-year-old Memorial Stadium and said the MHSAA hasn’t contacted any school or facility about moving the games.

The organization can look to its neighboring state for some ideas.

With help from a sports management company, the Alabama High School Athletic Association moved its games three years ago from Birmingham’s 85-year-old Legion Field to more lavish major college stadiums – Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium and Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium. The title games are alternated between the two.

“It’s been a great success,” said Gene Hallman, the executive director for the Alabama Sports Foundation, which headed the move from Legion Field, a venue similar to Memorial Stadium.

Each is home to an urban school — UAB and Jackson State — that has clamored for a new, on-campus stadium.

Each venue’s future is uncertain. The Tigers are in the first year of owning Memorial and have the option in three years to return the stadium to the state.

Meanwhile, the University of Mississippi Medical Center has expressed interest in the stadium property and already owns some of the surrounding land.

The MHSAA has a one-year agreement with JSU to hold the championship games at Memorial.

Hinton would not disclose the financial details.

The AHSAA is in the third year of a six-year contract to alternate its games between Bryant-Denny and Jordan-Hare. The association leases the stadiums for free, while each city, Tuscaloosa and Auburn, contributes “six figures” to host the event, Hallman said.

Southern Miss athletic director Richard Giannini called the idea of rotating the championship games between the three major Mississippi universities “a good concept.”

“This would just be another way to get students and families from all over the state to visit your campus,” he said.

Said Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin: “We love having high school events on our campus. I think we’d try to host it.”

Hallman says the biggest benefactors might be the players, who get the chance to play in a major college football setting — something that was lost over the last decade at Legion Field.

Alabama and Auburn played the season-ending rivalry game, the Iron Bowl, at Legion Field each season for more than 40 years until 1988.

Neither team has played there in nearly a decade.

“It lost its allure to young people,” he said.

Ole Miss and Mississippi State used to regularly play games at Memorial Stadium. The last time that happened: 1996 for the Rebels and 1990 for the Bulldogs.

Memorial Stadium, though, provides a central location for traveling teams. Jackson is about 200 miles from the state’s northern boundary and is about 170 from the southern end.

At its farthest, a northern team would have to travel 300 miles to Hattiesburg for a game at M.M. Roberts Stadium. The southern-most school would have to ride 325 miles to Oxford.

Hinton, though, said the MHSAA would be fair.

“You wouldn’t always want to go way up north or way down south,” he said. “We would be very fair and open to where we’d play.” (November 29, 2011, Page 7)

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