Black college football teams do not frequently play in bowl games. The only venues that come close to duplicating a bowl atmosphere are the annual classic games that are played during the regular season across the country, ours being the Circle City Classic. It was in 2015 when the Circle City Classic game between Kentucky State and Central State had the highest attendance of any NCAA Division II football game of that week with a crowd of 22,523 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Fast forward to 2022, and last week news broke that Indiana Black Expo won’t host a football game in the Circle City Classic format, but rather an HBCU band showcase. So far, the bands confirmed to perform are the Miles College Purple Marching Machine, Kentucky State University Marching Machine Thorobreds and the Talladega College Great Tornado Band. Other bands will be announced closer to the event.
The tradition of football classics began roughly a century ago; in 1919, Howard and Lincoln (Pennsylvania) met in what is believed to be the first contest to informally receive the tag of “classic,” while 1927 saw the first encounters to formally earn the “classic” moniker (the Louisiana State Fair Classic in Shreveport, and the then-dubbed Turkey Day Classic between Johnson C. Smith and Livingstone College). Classics are an integral part of the football landscape at HBCUs.
Growing up, the Circle City Classic used to be described as the World Series or the Final Four, but primarily for us in the African American community, classics are Black college football’s version of bowls. They began at a time when powerhouse Black schools such as Grambling State and Alcorn State and Florida A&M weren’t likely to be invited to postseason bowls.
I will say it on the record: I’m saddened by the news that there won’t be a football game this year. If you ask me, it seems like this will be the beginning of the end for the event. We need the Circle City Classic event in its fullest form. It’s where we can get together for a national homecoming. Going to the Circle City Classic weekend events as a young boy helped formulate my mind to see what HBCU culture was like all in one weekend.
From a fiscal and logistical standpoint, I understand certain numbers have to be met. But it should be understood that there’s more to these classics than just the action on the field. They are weekend-long events, much like a school’s homecoming, only on a bigger scale. Fashion shows, tailgating, all white galas, job fairs, step shows, parades and a vast array of other events that add flavor to the overall classic and HBCU experience.
Unlike other events, the Circle City Classic is the epicenter where sports, HBCU culture and Black history converge. I certainly think there are ways to continue to build on the popularity of the Circle City Classic and how it can maximize in generating revenue. When you bring in a FAMU or a Jackson State, we know these are two traditional powerhouse HBCU programs’ fans will want to see.
With all due respect and #HBCULove in mind, there are a handful of classics that define Black college football, and I’d like to think the Circle City Classic is one of them. I think finding the right matchups is a key in the landscape of game scheduling, as not only is it good for the city but the event can be an eye-opener to the younger generation and shape their future college decisions. All in all, I will at least give this new format a chance. See y’all Sept. 24.
Devon Davis is a public policy specialist at Bose Public Affairs Group. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.