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Ole Miss Fans React to the New Grove Rules

Grove

It is now barely a week until the great Rebel family reunion in the Grove to tailgate for the home game against UT-Martin Skyhawks next Saturday. However, there will be new tailgating rules for the Grove, and one especially stands out: no more reserving a tent spot all Friday.

This rule of the Grove is listed first in Ole Miss Athletics’ “10 Must Knows for Tailgating.” Gone is the tradition of reserving a tent spot all Friday in the Grove. Instead, the Grove will be open to the public until 6:30 p.m., and every person must leave the place for a full hour until they can rush back in to claim their tent spot at 7:30 p.m. Nobody will be able to leave personal items in the Grove as a marker, either.

This egalitarian rule may have made tent-propping opportunities more easily available, but it came as a rude surprise to some longtime tailgaters. This rule, to them, makes it easier for other people to steal their spot – a rudeness equivalent to a fair weather Christian sitting in someone’s unofficial ‘family pew’ at church during Easter service.

Wanda Pearcy, Ridgeland resident whose two daughters have been University of Mississippi students, has learned about the decision this past July from a vendor. Pearcy remarked that Ole Miss seemingly snuck in the information to avoid controversy.

She said, “I feel like this move pushes the fans who don’t have a lot of money out of the game day experience. The tailgate companies will be able to get to spots faster than the others, and if they want your spot, they can have it. There’s a company who staged their stuff right at my spot. There’s no way I could beat them to it if they wanted it. The charge to set up one tent? $250 per game. That’s $750 per month. Regular people don’t have that kind of money. It would seem that Ross Bjork and the University don’t care about that. They care only about the wealthy donors and getting money for the program. I’m very disappointed and, depending on how it goes, may let this be my last year to buy season tickets and tailgate. This decision makes me very angry.”

Some Ole Miss fans see it as an obstruction of an Ole Miss tradition; many have fond memories of waiting in the Grove all day, playing frisbee or finishing up their homework as they lie on blankets that reserve their tent spots.

Taylor Kamnetz, Memphis resident and UM graduate of Meek School of Journalism, said, “I think that entirely shuts down tradition and half of the fun of setting up our tent. It becomes a social thing and adds to the whole Groving experience in a way.”

Evan Maxwell, UM graduate of the School of Business, has sat in the Grove “for 10 hours every home game from 2011 to 2014.” As a veteran of the reserve-a-spot gathering in the Grove, he thinks the new rule won’t alleviate the crowding.

He said, “This is just going to lead to a full-on charge onto the Grove en masse. Which means fights are going to break out about ‘who got there first.’ This already happens under the current system, it’s just easier to tell since people weren’t rushing all at once.”

Maxwell wrote a letter to the Ole Miss Athletics’ feedback page. Soon, he talked for a half hour on the phone with Michael Thompson, the Senior Associate Athletic Director for Ole Miss.

In the phone call they discussed the rule. Thompson explained that Ole Miss was concerned by students and vendors camping out earlier and earlier to mark spots which created issues for landscaping staff as they prepared the Grove for tailgating. The landscaping staff will add new lanes to criss-cross the Grove to reduce the amount of landlocked tents as well as create easier navigation. Hence the Ole Miss Athletics created new Grove rule since the previous rule of opening the Grove at 9 p.m. seemingly created a ‘pay to play’ environment as the vendors had the advantage of being there all day, especially if the vendors, and the students too, were habitually saving uneccessarily large spaces that hindered tent space availability in the Grove.

Thompson said to him, “The Grove is never at full capacity.”

So every Friday before the home games, everyone in the Grove will have to leave with their personal items. Then at 7:30 p.m. the tailgaters will have to teamwork as one runs out to mark spots while another brings tents. Pre-approved vendors who pay a fee to the university may bring their equipment on campus by the Grove or the Circle before 7:30 p.m. so they can set up quickly when the Grove opens. The rule also applies to them; the vendor employees may not be with their equipment at 6:30 p.m. and are only allowed on the Grove when it opens.

Thompson said to Maxwell, “A body in a spot trumps a vendor with a tent. It’s whoever is first.”

He added that one of benefits of the rule is that since vendors are registered with equipment holding spots, their vehicles won’t stall traffic on University Avenue. Due to registration, the vendors are also responsible for any trash its clients leave behind.

Maxwell still anticipates a “huge rush” at 7:30 p.m. with more fights breaking out. He said, “I’m not confident that the university has a good solution to prevent or deal with this. Michael Thompson assured me that this system is to ensure that the Grove never becomes ‘pay to play.’ He was very emphatic on that point, and to me, was very sincere. I really like that they are adding more lanes. Like, a lot more. This makes it so even if I don’t get ‘my spot,’ there are actually ample good spots to go around.”

This new rule will go in effect next Friday. Longtime tailgaters are welcome to share their opnions on this rule change.


Note: the conversation between Evan Maxwell and Michael Thompson is paraphrased.

Callie Daniels Bryant is a senior managing editor at HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at callie.daniels@hottytoddy.com.

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