JACKSON, Miss. – Just in time for the Fourth of July holiday, Alcorn State University President M. Christopher Brown II set off fireworks in Mississippi, and beyond, by proclaiming, “Alcorn declares independence from Capital City Classic.”
In a detailed document published on the university’s website, Brown and interim athletic director Dwayne White said the annual game between Alcorn and Jackson State University, now informally dubbed “the Soul Bowl” will be held Nov. 17, 2012 in the Spinks-Casem Stadium on the Lorman campus.
Alcorn’s administrators said the school will be exercising the home team’s preference in 2012, which is to play in Lorman rather than in Jackson. Although the game has been called the Capital City Classic for 18 years, the teams have played their annual game 19 consecutive times. The annual game is expected to be played in Jackson in 2013.
In language inspired by the Declaration of Independence, Brown stated, “The facts are self-evident that the Lorman campus is an equal and adequate venue for ANY football game, including Jackson State. The time has come to declare our independence from hosting the Capital City Classic on our rival school’s home field.”
Brown, who began his presidency in 2011, also stated, “As president, I have a fiscal and leadership responsibility to Alcorn State University and this decision is in our best long-term interest.”
Jackson State’s official response was relatively muted, considering the convenience of previously having the games at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson, which was a state property but full control was recently transferred to Jackson State University.
JSU sports information officer Wesley Peterson released the university’s official statement to Diverse, which read: “We respect Alcorn State’s decision to move the Nov. 17 football game to its home stadium in Lorman, Miss. We look forward to the JSU Tiger Nation traveling in force to Casem-Spinks Stadium.”
But much stronger sentiments came from the City of Jackson, whose mayor, Harvey Johnson, admitted to being “very disappointed” in the decision, which city officials tried mightily to prevent. Last year’s Classic boosted the city’s economy by $2.5 million, according to Johnson.
Johnson said he met with both presidents to try to reach an agreement and that “the Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau …offered a proposal which would pay for transportation, lodging and meals for the football team, athletic staff, cheerleaders, the band and student representatives.” Altogether, Johnson said the city’s Convention and Visitors’ Bureau offered $160,000 to cover various Alcorn expenses.
From Alcorn’s perspective, that was not sufficient. President Brown was quoted in local media stating that the city would have to “come to the table with $500,000 cash and expenses.” Alcorn’s interim athletic director Dwayne White explained, “It was a situation where it was not worthwhile for us to go to Jackson to play our home game, with no chance of earning the income we could get by having it at Alcorn — and having the opportunity to recruit, and to showcase our campus.”
One of the main problems with the event, according to Brown’s statement, has been the lack of a corporate support. White said that historically there has been corporate sponsorship, but not this year.
The Capital City Classic has been part of the culture of HBCU football mega-events such as the Bayou Classic between Southern and Grambling universities, held each year in New Orleans, La., and the Magic City Classic between Alabama State and Alabama A&M, held annually in Birmingham, Ala. Both of those events have major corporate sponsorship for 2012.
Another issue leading to Alcorn’s decision was ticket sales and disparities between the actual sales figures and statements put forth by officials. By all accounts the sales declined over the past few years. By the mayor’s own figures, attendance went from 43,000 in 2010 to 31,500 in 2011. However, Alcorn’s numbers are quite different. “Our figures are based on ticket sales and how many people actually came into the stadium,” White said. He said 25,000 tickets were sold and 22,730 people actually attended the game inside the stadium. According to White, nearby communities of Vicksburg and Natchez are eager to assist Lorman in accommodating the visitors.
Official wrangling aside, fans and supporters on both sides appear ready to just enjoy this year’s game. Alcorn alumnus Dr. Charlie H. Bridges, a Baton Rouge, La., urologist, is one of the school’s most ardent tailgaters. His high-end RV serves as “tailgate-central” to dozens of friends and relatives. Bridges, who also serves on the board of directors of the ASU Foundation, says he wasn’t completely surprised to learn of Brown’s announcement.
“There had been rumors out there that either revenue was not being not shared properly or was never collected to be distributed — there has been talk for last three or four years at least. It’s about the economics of the situation,” Bridges said, adding that his only concern is traffic. “If [Alcorn] can eliminate the bottleneck and get people on and off campus in a timely manner, then it will be a pleasurable experience and people will want to come back.”
Jackson State’s top booster, Tiger Fund Chairman Robert L. Cook, doesn’t suppress his regret over the change of venue. “I wasn’t mentally prepared for it even though I knew it was a possibility,” he said. Like Bridges, he says he is concerned about the logistics. But Cook maintains a positive outlook.
“We have a rivalry that’s alive, well and healthy,” Cook says. “At end of the day, we may talk trash and try to pound them into the dirt, but when it’s all over, we’re a part of Alcorn and Alcorn is a part of us. We’re brothers and sisters.”