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Rattlers, Wildcats Agree on Something
University presidents not pleased about MEAC-SWAC game at Orlando Citrus Bowl.
Bethune-Cookman University President Trudie Kibbe Reed and Florida A&M University President James H. Ammons denied this week that they have given their blessings to an Orlando HBCU football game scheduled this month between Hampton University and Jackson State University.
In a joint statement, Reed and Ammons said a recent article in the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper incorrectly indicated that the two presidents support the relocation of the annual Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Challenge to the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando on Aug. 31.
The game, which is normally held in Birmingham, Ala., will pit the MEAC’s Hampton University against the SWAC’s Jackson State University on Aug. 31 in Orlando, some three months before the annual Florida Classic football game between BCU and FAMU, which is Nov. 22. The Challenge will be televised on ESPN2.
Don’t support Orlando game
“It has come to our attention that a recent article in the Tallahassee Democrat incorrectly indicates that we, as presidents of Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) and Florida A&M University (FAMU), support the relocation of the MEAC-SWAC Challenge football game to Orlando and agree to play in the challenge,’’ the statement reads.
“We wish to correct the information that was erroneously printed in the Tallahassee Democrat. As we have made clear in earlier statements, we do not support any historically Black college or university athletic event in Orlando. We believe such a contest would negatively impact the annual Florida Classic.
“In addition to being a much-loved tradition for our alumni, the Florida Classic is a critical revenue source for both B-CU and FAMU. It is our strong belief that scheduling a football event in Orlando prior to the Florida Classic will erode its brand and put this critical funding source at risk,’’ the statement further contends.
The presidents’ statement also said that a rumor that the Florida Classic could be moved from Orlando to Miami in 2009 was false.
Reed further explained her position during an interview with the Florida Courier.
“We want everyone to know that we play the Florida Classic in Orlando just as the Bayou Classic (between Grambling State University and Southern University) is played in New Orleans. I’m concerned that a game played in such proximity to the Florida Classic will have a negative impact on patrons who frequent the Florida Classic,’’ she said.
“We welcome any HBCU to come to Florida to host games, but want to ensure that the Florida Classic does not lose revenue because of it. I simply don’t feel good about another game in Orlando three months shy of the Classic,” she added.
“If we (B-CU) went over to New Orleans to play just before the Bayou Classic, it would raise concerns. I’m not saying don’t come. I’m simply asking, why now? The timing is off, especially in such trying financial times for everyone,” she explained. B-CU and FAMU share the revenues from the annual game, which is typically played the weekend before Thanksgiving.
The Florida Classic has eclipsed the Bayou Classic as the premier HBCU game.
Both Classics are known for large participation. Both have large followings and activities throughout the week, which lead up to the games themselves.
The Florida Classic began in 1979 but since 1997, a total of 689,592 fans have watched the game in Orlando’s Citrus Bowl. An average of 68,708 fans have attended the contest since its inception. The record for attendance is 73,358, set in 2003.
Attendance down; Disney leaves
Last year, attendance took a dive. Records indicate that 65,367 were at the 2007 Classic. In 2006, there were 71,216 spectators. This year’s Sunshine State showdown between B-CU and FAMU will be televised live nationally on ESPN Classic. Earlier this year, Walt Disney World announced that it would no longer be the title sponsor for the Florida Classic.
Some supporters think the Classic is a case of putting the schools’ financial eggs in one basket.
“I think it is past time we began looking at more feasible alternatives to increasing or maintaining revenues generated by games such as these,” said Thomas Miles, an Orlando businessman.
Still, Reed is confident the game will continue as the No. 1 HBCU classic in the nation.
“This Classic is more than a game. It is a family reunion that has evolved into the greatest competition between two historic universities in the state of Florida. The football game, the band competition, the tailgating, the display of school pride, as well as the student recruitment and educational fairs now attract individuals as far away as New York City and deliver a near-$30 million economic impact to the Central Florida economy,” Reed said.
By comparison, the Bayou Classic is much older, having been instituted in 1974. Its largest crowd to date was the inaugural game with an attendance of 76,753. Last year the attendance was 53,297.
The presidents further state that they have advised MEAC Commissioner DennisThomas oftheirconcern, noting that “Historically Black Colleges and Universities should not infringe on each other’s markets for signature events, whether it be the Florida Classic in Orlando or the Bayou Classic in New Orleans.’’ FAMU and B-CU are both MEAC member schools.
MEAC commissioner Dennis Thomas was unavailable for comment by the Florida Courier’s presstime.
Rattlers, Wildcats agree on something
By Karsceal Turner, The Florida Courier