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Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Spartans hope to honor landmark game

By Eamonn Brennan

Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis' most recent scheduling accomplishment -- the 2011-12 season-opening Carrier Classic game between Michigan State and North Carolina, the photos of which remain incredible -- cemented Hollis's reputation as one of the nation's most creative, outside-the-box scheduling thinkers.

Hollis has a different event in mind for 2012. It may draw less attention than a basketball game on an active U.S. Navy warship, but it is nonetheless a fantastic and laudable idea. In 1963, an all-white Mississippi State team defied a court injunction disallowing Mississippi teams from competing against integrated squads. Instead, the team sneaked out of Mississippi and all the way up to East Lansing, where it went ahead and played its NCAA tournament Mideast Regional semifinal game against Loyola (Ill.) -- which at the time featured four African-American starters -- striking a symbolic blow for the equalizing power of sports at the early crest of the civil rights movement.

Even those familiar with the game may not know it was played in East Lansing (I am, and I didn't) and so Hollis told MLive.com he is hoping to celebrate the game's 50th anniversary with a commemorative game at Michigan State's old Jenison Field House, site of the original matchup:
"The historical significance of that game needs to be recognized," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said Tuesday, before appearing at a fan event in Berrien Springs. "I don't think a lot of people in Michigan are aware that game was played there and we want to make sure that story is told."

"This is the 50th anniversary as you know and Mississippi State and Loyola are looking at some possibilities, as well as we are," Hollis said. "I want to do something that commemorates that facility, so that's what we're working toward. And we're looking at a bunch of different options that make sense."

Great idea, right? Unfortunately, getting the idea past the gestation stage has proved more difficult. (As coach Tom Izzo told MLive.com, "The thought of it is really cool. Executing it is the problem.") Hollis has made attempts to line up both Mississippi State and Loyola for the game, but logistical hurdles remain, and Michigan State itself may now participate in some version of the game, though the opponent is unknown.

The right way -- or at least the best way -- is also the obvious way: Mississippi State and Loyola both need to be on board. Failing that, whatever Hollis comes up with will be an improvement on nothing at all. Fifty years on, the memory of that landmark 1963 game remains as essential as ever.