Bethune-Cookman has changed its mind about the MEAC-SWAC Challenge Game in Orlando, shifting away from a 2007 announcement that it would skip the contest to participate in this year’s edition. Now Florida A&M, the state’s other Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference program, is prepared to follow suit — if the price is right.
“We are the crown jewel of black college football,” FAMU president James Ammons tells St. Clair Murraine of The Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat. “There is a market price to have all that comes with Florida A&M football.”
Gee, I thought these schools’ long-held objections were all about the fans (/sarcasm).
Both programs, remember, balked when the Challenge was moved from Birmingham, Ala. to Orlando, a decision that coincided with Disney (the parent company of broadcast arm ESPN) transferring its sponsorship dollars away from the Florida Classic between Bethune and FAMU. Florida A&M played in the Challenge that year, drawing a record crowd of 30,106 in a game against Southern — the last held at Legion Field. But a switch to Florida, the schools insisted back then, would put undue strain on their fanbases’ budget, forcing supporters to choose between home games and this made-for-TV event. Ammons and Bethune-Cookman president Trudie Kibbie Reed subsequently made a joint announcement that neither institution would accept an invite as long as the game was played at Citrus Bowl Stadium.
That was then. Fast forward to this offseason, and Bethune-Cookman is set to play against the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s Prairie View in the Challenge game on Sept. 4. And it seems like Ammons might be re-considering things, too. He now says: “What FAMU could do for that MEAC-SWAC game is something that no other team in the MEAC or the SWAC can do. We feel that we should have a fair market value for us to be in that game.”
The payout for the MEAC-SWAC Challenge is reportedly between $100,000-$175,000, with the bulk of its cache coming from the opportunity to play on ESPN before a national audience. Annual games like the Florida Classic, Murraine reports, regularly bring in upwards of $600,000 for FAMU. That game has been held in Orlando since 1997.