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Pigskin payday: for many HBCU athletic departments, the annual football classics keep their sports programs afloat.

Southern University Athletic Director Greg LaFleur was smiling long before his Jaguars defeated rival Grambling State University in the State Farm Bayou Classic on Thanksgiving weekend.

It wasn't the prospect of winning the game that had him giddy. It was the financial windfall his athletic department was about to get out of the game.

"It's a huge asset to our department," LaFleur says. "For Division I-AA schools like us, it is the biggest game you have. There's no other way you can generate that kind of revenue."

With their huge corporate sponsors, big profits and wide visibility, the classics are the financial lynchpin for many HBCU athletic departments.

Baton Rouge, La.-based Southern, which has a $7 million budget for its 18-sport athletic department, is a prime example. Student fees and ticket revenues account for about two-thirds of the university's athletic income. The rest comes from one game, the Bayou Classic.

"That game is the reason we can support our other sports," LaFleur says.

And it's not just the classics that are bringing in big bucks. In November and December, smaller schools, including HBCUs, often travel to face the nation's basketball powerhouses in what are called guarantee games. It's a guaranteed payday for the small school, but it usually comes with a guaranteed beating on the court. The first few weeks of the college football season also generally feature some eyebrow-raising matchups, as top-ranked teams tune up and tee off on overmatched competition. Florida A&M University's football team, for example, was dismantled 51-10 by the University of Miami Hurricanes earlier this season.

While a 40-point drubbing may be embarrassing for the small schools, the six-figure payday can ease the hurt. And even with the loss, national exposure is good for recruiting. But the guarantee games in basketball and football are few and far between for small programs. The classics, meanwhile, are played every year, usually in large cities and against traditional rivals. Those games bring in the kind of money that can keep an HBCU's athletic department afloat.

The Money Game

Like most other collegiate athletic programs, HBCU athletic departments struggle to finish in the black financially each year. Aside from some perennial college football powerhouses like the University of Florida, the University of Georgia, The Ohio State University and the University of Tennessee, most athletic departments barely break even each year. The margin for error is almost always narrow, especially at small schools. And because a home game may draw 20,000 people or less, it's often a wise move to trade it for a classic date, which comes with guaranteed money and the chance to play in front of 70,000 fans or more.

"That's the pressure we're under as athletic directors," says Troy Mathieu, who holds the position at Grambling. "Keeping the revenue streams not only sustaining what we have, but also growing our departments."

Among the nation's oldest classics is the annual Morehouse-'Skegee Classic in Columbus, Ga., between Morehouse College and Tuskegee University. The game, which has been played every year since 1902, has been based in Columbus for the past 71 years. But while that game may be among the oldest, another Black college classic has emerged as the best known.

It was Grambling's legendary sports information director, the late Collie Nicholson, who came up with the idea to have Grambling play its in-state rival, Southern, each year on neutral ground. That game, the Bayou Classic, is played every Thanksgiving weekend in New Orleans and broadcast to a nationwide audience, bringing the Black college football experience, with its intense rivalries and high-stepping bands, into mainstream America.

Among the more successful annual events is the Southern Heritage Classic between Tennessee State University and its rival, Jackson State University. TSU also battles Florida A&M each year in the 100 Black Men Classic in Atlanta. FAMU, meanwhile, squares off against Bethune-Cookman College in the Walt Disney World Florida Classic. The Coca-Cola Circle City Classic in Indianapolis brings in various teams each year and draws as many as 150,000 visitors to the city.

Many of the classics have evolved into four- and five-day events. Instead of simply a Saturday football game, some classics now include golf tournaments, parades, concerts and job fairs.

"Over the years, the classics have been a great financial windfall for our universities," says Mathieu. "But just as important as the revenue piece, it takes our universities into other parts of the country and serves as a recruiting tool for not only athletics, but our universities as a whole."

While the classic model has been a financial boon for many of the universities, the approach has also led to a slew of failures. In 2001, the Silver Dollar Classic between Grambling and Tennessee State promised to bring HBCU football out West. Held in Las Vegas, that game was a success, but following installments were mired in bad management, internal squabbles and low attendance. The game moved to Los Angeles this season, but the matchup between Alcorn State University and Morehouse also failed to draw large numbers of fans.

Larger schools in the nation's big-time conferences, such as the Big 12, the Big Ten, the Pacific 10 and the Southeastern Conference, have their own problems. Unlike HBCUs with lucrative classics, these larger schools aren't necessarily geeing rich by earning trips to big postseason bowl games.

The Big Tens Ohio State Buckeyes and the SEC's Florida Gators will each receive $17 million to play in the Tostitos BCS National Championship game on Jan. 8. But no matter who wins, the schools will never see much of that money. Instead, it's sprit among all of the teams in their respective conferences. Bowl-bound schools also generally have to pay their own travel and housing costs for the team and the support staff--which can easily reach nearly $1 million.

Plus, schools have to sell a minimum number of tickets to the bowl games. If not, they end up eating that money.

The nation's top teams earn invitations to the high-profit Bowl Championship Series games, each of which pays $17 million per school. But other bowl games, like the Bowl and the Insight Bowl, offer a significantly smaller payday. The Bowl--which features the University of South Florida Bulls and the East Carolina University Pirates this year--brings in the lowest amount at $300,000 per team. On average, a trip to a bowl game will bring in about $1 million for each team.

LaFleur, who has been an associate AD at Louisiana State University--an SEC school that's heading towards a $17 million payday in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3--remembers those days.

"We'd make nearly $3 million a game at LSU," he says. "You do the math. But there's only 20 schools that operate like that. The rest are like Southern. Most [athletic department programs] are not self-sustaining."

The major conferences also bring in millions by selling the rights to air their games to television stations like ABC and ESPN. The profits from those contracts are also sprit among the conference teams. The University of Notre Dame, which doesn't belong to a football conference, has an exclusive national contract with NBC to televise at least six of the Fighting Irish's home games, a contract worth a reported $10 million annually. Each year, some of that money goes towards academic scholarships, though the bulk goes to the athletic department.

Second-tier conferences like the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference and the Western Athletic Association can rarely get a piece of those multimillion-dollar contracts. Some will appear on television, but often only when they play a team from one of the power conferences. Most are scrounging to find other ways to raise money for their athletic programs.

In light of the perennial funding crunch for athletic departments, classics could well be the best cure for ailing HBCU programs.

Those games that are successful, like the Bayou Classic, help to ensure that all of a school's sports programs will continue that year.

"Most people don't realize that there is not a whole lot of money made in athletics," LaFleur says. "We just try to maintain."

RELATED ARTICLE: Black coaches heading Division I-A Football Teams.


NCAA Division I-A football is made up of 119 teams. Combined, these teams have approximately 9,500 players, of whom 57 percent are African-American, according to NCAA data. But only six of the 119 head coaches are Black. Turner Gill of the University of Buffalo and Ron Prince of Kansas State University are completing their first seasons at the helm, and the University of Miami's Randy Shannon will make his head coaching debut in 2007. Prince will lead his Wildcats to the Texas Bowl against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Dec. 28. Meanwhile, Karl Dorrell's UCLA Bruins battled the Florida State University Seminoles on Dec. 27 in the Emerald Bowl. (pictured, Sylvester Croom)
Calling the Shots
African-American head coaches in NCAA Div. 1-A football


Sylvester Croom Mississippi State 3 3
Karl Dorrell UCLA 4 4
Turner Gill University at 1 1
Ron Prince Kansas State 1 1
Randy Shannon University of Miami 0 0
Tyrone University of 2 12
 Willingham Washington

2006 HBCU Classics

Event Home Visitor

Heritage Classic Stillman Tuskegee
HBCU Classic Edward Waters Johnson C. Smith
Atlanta Labor Clark Atlanta Fort Valley State
 Day Classic
Ford Football Classic Delaware State Florida A&M
Chicago Football Classic Arkansas-Pine Bluff Miss Valley State
Palmetto Capital Benedict Savannah State
 City Classic
Virginia Lottery Labor Norfolk State Virginia State
 Day Classic
John Merritt Classic Tennessee State Alabama A&M
53rd Annual Gateway Bethune-Cookman Southern
Labor Day Classic Prairie View A&M Texas Southern
Dayton Classic Central State Urbana
Willie Gary Classic Edward Waters Shaw
9th Down East Viking
Football Classic Elizabeth City State Fayetteville State
Southern Heritage Tennessee State Jackson State
The Classic Livingstone Bowie State
New York Urban Morgan State Hampton
 League Classic
Masonic Bowl Fayetteville State Saint Paul's
Joe Turner Classic Savannah State Liberty
Community Youth Bowl Virginia Union Johnson C. Smith
Toyota Heritage Classic Kentucky State Central State
6th Annual Steel Miles Stillman
 City Classic
3rd Prince Bowie State North Carolina
 George's Classic Central
Silver Dollar Classic Alcorn State Morehouse
18th Atlanta Tennessee State Florida A&M
 Football Classic
13th Annual Gateway Arkansas-Pine Bluff Tuskegee
Fish Bowl Classic Norfolk State North Carolina A&T
State Fair Classic Grambling State Prairie View A&M
71st Annual Morehouse-
'Skegee Classic Morehouse Tuskegee
Circle City Classic Hampton Central State
Gulf Coast Classic Alabama State Jackson State
Delta Classic for Grambling State Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Battle of the Bay Hampton Norfolk State
14th CSRA Classic Savannah State Morehouse
NABB Biker's Classic Tennessee State Tennessee Tech
Gold Bowl Virginia Union Virginia State
70th Magic City Classic Alabama A&M Alabama State
17th Fountain City Fort Valley State Albany State
Capital City Classic Alcorn State Jackson State
27th Annual Florida Bethune-Cookman Florida A&M
83rd Annual Turkey Alabama State Tuskegee
 Day Classic
State Farm Bayou Southern Grambling State
 Classic XXXII

Event Attendance

Heritage Classic 7,881
HBCU Classic 10,205
Atlanta Labor 6,400
 Day Classic
Ford Football Classic 29,713
Chicago Football Classic 42,300
Palmetto Capital n/a
 City Classic
Virginia Lottery Labor 20,185
 Day Classic
John Merritt Classic 19,487
53rd Annual Gateway 23,241
Labor Day Classic 19,003
Dayton Classic 7,485
Willie Gary Classic n/a
9th Down East Viking
Football Classic 8,567
Southern Heritage 53,441
The Classic 4,248
New York Urban 53,588
 League Classic
Masonic Bowl 2,839
Joe Turner Classic 3,228
Community Youth Bowl 6,540
Toyota Heritage Classic canceled
6th Annual Steel n/a
 City Classic
3rd Prince 7,431
 George's Classic
Silver Dollar Classic 10,012
18th Atlanta 57,885
 Football Classic
13th Annual Gateway 30,000
Fish Bowl Classic 18,337
State Fair Classic 48,220
71st Annual Morehouse-
'Skegee Classic 31,234
Circle City Classic 31,597
Gulf Coast Classic 15,681
Delta Classic for 30,216
Battle of the Bay 18,157
14th CSRA Classic 6,811
NABB Biker's Classic 9,720
Gold Bowl n/a
70th Magic City Classic 66,233
17th Fountain City 24,617
Capital City Classic 45,000
27th Annual Florida 71,216
83rd Annual Turkey 18,245
 Day Classic
State Farm Bayou 47,136
 Classic XXXII

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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Seymour, Add, Jr.
Publication:Diverse Issues in Higher Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 28, 2006
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