In the first weekly press conference of the fall sports season, athletic director Ross Bjork opened the presser with major announcements regarding the state of Ole Miss athletics Monday afternoon.
“We have done a lot this summer that improves our program in many ways,” Bjork opened. “If you look at the momentum right now at Ole Miss and Oxford, there has probably never been a better time to be an Ole Miss Rebel.”
Ticket sales and athletic fundraising have reached record levels as the record was set this past June. Bjork added that the athletic budget increased from $57 million in 2011-2012 and the budget will reach $96 million in 2015-2016.
With the financial improvements of the athletic department, Ole Miss has extended the contract of Nike for another 12 years. Bjork and the rest of the athletics department met and agreed that Nike is the preferred brand for all of the players and coaches and athletics has received 1.9 million dollars worth of products each year under Nike.
All student athletes last academic year averaged a 2.90 grade point average, the best GPA ever academically with student athletes.
Bjork announced that major changes are being made when it comes to athletics facilities. New video boards for baseball, softball and track will have new video boards for their 2016 seasons, as they will start being constructed during the winter.
When it comes to Vaught-Hemingway stadium, 30 suites will be added to the south end zone along with 700 club seats. The video board in the north will be replaced and two video boards will be added to the south end zone, along with a new sound system and lights.
The opening of The Pavilion is on pace to open January 7th, 2016 when the men’s basketball team hosts Alabama.
“The Pavilion is progressing and coming along at a great level,” Bjork said.
The big announcements came later in the press conference when Bjork started addressing the football program. Bjork said that at the start of the 2016 season, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium will return to a natural grass playing field, making the switch from artificial turf. Because of the switch, there will be no spring game in 2016 as the grass needs to be settled in.
“We think it is the right thing to do for our program on many levels,” Bjork said. “Natural grass is the preferred playing surface of our players and coaches.”
Bjork added that Arkansas and Ole Miss are the only teams in the SEC West with artificial turf, as the playability of a grass surface was the ultimate difference-maker.
There was a time before the start of last season where Ole Miss fans, students and alumni clammerred for powder blue helmets. Not only did it happen last season at home against Memphis, but it will happen again this season as the Rebels will wear the helmets again at home against Vanderbilt on Sept. 26th, Bjork announced. The helmets will be worn in honor of prostate cancer awareness month, as each school in the conference will participate in bringing awareness for former SEC commissioner Mike Slive.
“It is a great way for us to be a part of his legacy to showcase men’s health for the entire month of September,” Bjork said. “We will have special helmet stickers and our helmets, which happen to be the same color as prostate cancer awareness.”