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Confusing Crisis Communication – Kicking a Field Goal a Second Too Late

My alma mater is undergoing a crisis – in communication. We’ve been without an on-field mascot since I left the campus of Ole Miss in 2003. The administration started with proposing an updated version of Colonel Reb – which failed miserably with students, staff and alumni.

The administration then decided we would not have an on-field mascot. This went on for several years, while students banded together to form the Colonel Reb Foundation – a group that sought to continue the traditions of the University of Mississippi. The students were smart – they bought their own mascot uniform and tickets to the football games.

In the past year, this character has been denied entrance to the home games, even with a paid ticket. The students were still able to get Colonel Reb into away games. Whether you agree with it or not, this foundation has been spot-on in how they communicate their message – they will not accept a replacement for Colonel Reb.

The university is a different story plagued with Admiral Ackbar mishaps, Landsharks and now a Black Bear.

Beginning in July 2009, the student government approached the university administration to start a search for a replacement on-field mascot. The voting period ended a couple of weeks ago with the announcement that the Rebel Black Bear beat out the Landshark (a gesture that originated with the Rebel football defense turned shark character) and Hotty Toddy (a muppet-like character based on a popular school cheer).

There was also a side campaign to make Admiral Ackbar from Star Wars the mascot. There were multiple YouTube videos and a Facebook page on the possibility of making him our mascot. Instead of giving the viral campaign a shot, the administration downplayed this choice and ESPN documented the farce in a commercial that fans saw for the first time during a Labor Day 2010 Boise State game.

Everywhere I’ve gone, we’ve been given grief over this choice of mascots (quite possibly because bears make much more sense in Maine), but I’m not here to discuss the mascot choice.

I’m here to discuss the campaign the university just launched to garner support for our sports teams that seems a bit late to the game. It seems like they are kicking a field goal a second too late.

In the last two weeks, I’ve received email video messages from the chancellor and Fox News’ Shepard Smith (a long-time Ole Miss supporter and former student) on how we Rebels should unify in the face of all the uproar around the mascot.

My take is that they should have started this campaign before the controversy got started. The whole mascot selection is blowing up like it did seven years ago, but this time it’s student-led. Nothing new is happening here. It’s a complicated matter that’s just getting more confusing.