The Impact of  Dan Mullen’s Tenure at Mississippi State on the University and Starkville

The Flutie Effect: refers to the American phenomenon of having a successful college sports team increase the exposure and prominence of a university.*

How do Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary in 1984 against Miami and Mississippi State tie together? The appropriately named Flutie Effect has played a large part in the growth of Mississippi State University and Starkville, Mississippi, as a whole, and the benefits of this theory continue to be proven true as more and more successful athletic accomplishments happen in Starkville.

This begs the question, how exactly have Mississippi State and Starkville benefitted from the Dan Mullen Era as a whole. Let’s go back to 2009, the first year of Dan Mullen’s tenure. Mississippi State had an enrollment of 18,601 undergrads, and the city of Starkville had a population of 24,000. The economic development many have come to see in Starkville had not started yet, and Starkville seemed content with staking its claim as the worst college town in the SEC. Mississippi State went 5-7 in 2009 with a season ending win over arch-rival and nationally ranked Ole Miss, and the fan base’s excitement was growing. Fast forward to 2010, the new decade brought with it an increase of enrollment by 1,043 students, and brought the University’s enrollment to 19,644, close to reaching the 20,000 mark for the first time in the school’s history.
Excitement was high entering the 2010 season, but no one thought Mississippi State would win the Gator Bowl the way they did on New Year’s Day. Mississippi State would finish the season 9-4, with a dominant win over one of the most storied programs in the NCAA’s history, Michigan. The successful year had positive impacts across the board, from the city’s population, which increased by 250 people, to the University’s enrollment numbers, which again continued to climb this year by 780 students, marking the first year Mississippi State eclipsed the 20,000 mark of students enrolled in the University.
The excitement continued to escalate as the economic development began to really start making a difference in Starkville. With the potential of having a truly great season on the horizon, the buzz in Starkville was at an all-time high for football. Mississippi State would start the 2012 season 7-0, and would reach as high as #11 in the BCS Standings the week of the #WeBelieve fiasco, when the Bulldogs ran into top-ranked Alabama. Mississippi State would end up finishing the season on a disappointing 1-5 stretch, but the seed had been planted. Dan Mullen had led a bottom-of-the-cellar program to a combined record of 17-9 over the span of two seasons, with back-to-back appearances in the bowl games. However, the University did not see the gains many anticipated, as MSU actually lowered it’s enrollment going into the 2012 year. However, the town of Starkville did grow by around 400, and you had to try very hard not to find a construction crane while driving through Starkville.
(The Multi-Million Dollar Development, The Mill in Starkville)
Insert the 2013 Football season, the year of Tyler Russell, or so many thought it would be. He was going to be given the keys to the offense, and the hype for the first game of the season, the Texas Kickoff Classic in Houston, was very real. But a disappointing loss, marred by injuries, turned the season into Dak Prescott’s developmental year. It was a small sign of great things to come. Mississippi State would finish the season on a 3 game win streak, which included the iconic “Wallacing” fumble in the end zone to seal the win against Ole Miss, as well as a blowout bowl win over Rice in the Liberty Bowl. Gains from that season were not felt at the University, as a not-so-successful football year yielded a loss of students for back-to-back years at MSU, but the town continued to grow through great leadership, and the population went up by nearly 300 citizens.
(The Expanded North End Zone at Davis Wade Stadium for the 2014 Season)
Then 2014 happened. During the “Year of Dak”, Mississippi State reeled off back-to-back wins over Top-10 programs (LSU and Texas A&M) early in the season, and excitement levels were at an all-time high! College Gameday, which had been in Oxford the previous week, announced they would be making their first trip to Starkville for the matchup of the week, #2 Auburn vs #3 Mississippi State. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, and the standing-room only crowd watched as the Bulldogs defeated a top-3 team for the first time in Davis Wade Stadium. Mississippi State would go on to start the season 9-0, but would finish a measly 1-3 down the stretch, failing to capitalize with a Playoff bid on the line. However, Dak-mania was in full force, as a bonafide Heisman Candidate had led Mississippi State to the first #1 Ranking in the College Football Playoff Poll and a New Year’s Six bowl, as well as a 10 win season. The 2015 enrollment numbers of Mississippi State are directly attributable to the Flutie Effect, as many area newspapers pointed out. Mississippi State’s enrollment grew to record levels (20,873), and grew the University enrollment by over 800 students. Starkville saw huge gains as well, growing by over 500 citizens by most projections*.  The condo developments, restaurants and retail areas born out of this season created a huge boom in tax revenues for the city, as well as increasing the amount of jobs created as well.
In Dak’s final season as a Bulldog, 2015, the on-field success was not on the same scale as the 2014 season, but still respectable considering Mississippi State’s tradition when it comes to football. The Bulldogs would end up losing back-to-back Egg Bowls, but would go on to win their Bowl Game vs NC State on a rainy night in North Carolina, which was Dak’s last game in the Maroon and White. The Dak-effect was in full effect as over 700 new students enrolled at the University, and Mark Keenum’s goal to hit 25,000 students by 2020 seemed more attainable. MSU had grown to 21,660 students, and the town grew to over 25,500 residents in 2016. Million dollar developments were now becoming the norm in Starkville, as the town continued to show signs of growth. With Dan Mullen at the helm of the Mississippi State Football team, and Dak Prescott now manning America’s Team, it is hard to see the fruits of their labors waning any time soon.

FINAL Statistics:

Mississippi State Enrollment 2009: 18,601

Mississippi State Enrollment 2016: 21,660

Overall Increase: 3,059 (14% Increase)

Starkville Population 2009: 24,000

Starkville Population 2016* (Estimate): 25,550

Overall Increase: 1,550 (5.8% Increase)