COLUMBIA, Mo. – The Missouri athletic department is considering moving the MU football team from the east sideline to the west at home games, which would lead to a change in student seating.
The move would uproot the student seating directly behind the east benches between the 30-yard lines, an area currently filled by the Tiger’s Lair student fan group. The student group is against the proposed change.
“We’re looking at it,” MU athletic spokesman Nick Joos said. “Nothing has been finalized.”
Joos said a final decision would need to come within a month so season-ticket locations can be completed.
On Thursday, the athletic department held a meeting to discuss the proposal and invited nine student groups, including the Tiger’s Lair, which is an official club under the direction of MU Student Life. An MU student provided to the Tribune a written account of the meeting.
The letter said Coach Barry Odom spoke first, saying he had three concerns with the current game-day arrangement: that the heat was worse on east sideline during day games; that the teams have to cross paths coming and going from their locker rooms; and that he feared opposing coaches could steal Missouri’s signals.
Joos confirmed those concerns. He said 11 of 14 SEC schools have the primary television camera shooting into the visiting team’s bench. Currently, Missouri is one of three schools that doesn’t. The coaches signaling in plays from the sideline opposite the camera are more visible to viewers as well as to opposing coaches in the press box.
The switch of sidelines would require a change to student seating. Joos said Southeastern Conference rules stipulate that student sections can’t be directly behind the visiting team’s bench in the first 25 rows. He said there are no plans to move the Tiger’s Lair to the area behind the Missouri bench on the west side – if the move happens – because those seats have already been spoken for by season-ticket holders.
If the change is made, the new student section would be outside the 30-yard lines. Joos said eight SEC schools have student seating outside the 30-yard lines on the visiting sideline, with the others either on the home sideline or in the end zone or a corner.
Moving the student sections outside the 30-yard lines would divide the student fans. Currently, students command the seating in the lower section on the east side in a united group.
As for who will fill the old Tiger’s Lair area behind the bench on the east sideline, Joos said the plan is for the first 10 rows to be filled by visiting fans. Joos said SEC rules stipulate that 1,000 tickets in the lower bowl must be made available to visiting fans. Joos said the next 10 rows would be designated for recent MU graduates, with the final five rows for MU players’ families.
Currently, the visitor’s seating area is in the southwest corner of the stadium.
Having the student seating broken up by visiting fans is one of the concerns Tiger’s Lair Director Brooke Reynolds has with the proposal. She wonders what that will do to the atmosphere along the east sideline and how it will affect game-day traditions.
“There’s going to be a lot of traditions that are put at stake by doing this,” Reynolds said, “including pre-game activities with Truman and the firetruck and the water hose. That’s a big tradition. This affects the Golden Girls, the cheerleaders, the whole spirit squad, as well, splitting them up. This affects a lot of things, not just Tiger’s Lair, not just the student section. It affects a lot of things. I’m thinking that there’s other things we’re not thinking of, tradition-wise. I’m not sure how the M-I-Z, Z-O-U chant with the students and the alumni is going to work quite as effectively now that the students are going to be split.”
The Tiger’s Lair section has often featured a front row of shirtless students who spell out messages on their chests. The organization requires a $25 membership fee and the purchase of season tickets. Its membership is first-come, first-serve with a capacity of 1,600, according to the group’s page on the University of Missouri’s web site.
Reynolds, a senior who has been in Tiger’s Lair for four years, including three years on the group’s leadership team, also questioned the timing of the proposed change.
Missouri is coming off back-to-back losing seasons, which coincided with declining attendance at Memorial Stadium. Missouri’s average home attendance of 52,236 in seven home dates last season – the stadium’s capacity is 71,168 – was its lowest of this millennium.
“I think it’s going to give students the wrong impression that their attendance is not as meaningful to the football team and to Mizzou athletics by moving them over and giving the visitors those prime seats, like as seen in the proposal,” Reynolds said. “So I think it’s just coming at the wrong time. I think people would be a lot more accepting of the idea if we had just come off the two SEC East championships.”
An athletic department staff member wrote in an email to a student concerned about the proposed changes that the Tiger’s Lair’s current seating area behind the bench has poor sight lines because of players being in front of the seats.
Reynolds said she doesn’t buy this argument, adding that the students enjoy sitting directly behind the home bench.
“I could maybe possibly see that” the sight lines aren’t good “if the people sitting in those seats were going to be sitting the entire game, ... but our fans are standing for the entire three and a half or so hours,” she said.