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SWAC dropping its football championship game

Growth of the Celebration Bowl in Atlanta was a major factor in the decision to end the tradition after the ’17 season

When news broke that the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) would retire the Toyota SWAC Football Championship after the 2017 season, it became instant validation for the Celebration Bowl. There’s now no doubt that its season-ending matchup is the marquee game for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

“With the creation of the Celebration Bowl as a national showcase for HBCU football, the council of presidents and chancellors decided to suspend the championship game format after the 2017 season,” SWAC Commissioner Duer Sharp said in a news release announcing the decision. “By focusing on the Celebration Bowl, we can continue to grow the [game] as an HBCU classic for the teams and fans of both conferences and for HBCU football nationally.”

For Sharp, and for everyone involved in this landmark decision, this makes good sense. For starters, interest in the SWAC championship game, originally introduced in 1999, has been waning for years. Last year’s matchup between Alcorn State and Grambling State brought just under 25,000 fans — a 15,000-plus decline from 2015, which featured the same two teams.

The Celebration Bowl features the conference champions from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and SWAC. Debuting in 2015, the ESPN-owned game plays in the Georgia Dome and highlights the two HBCU conferences in NCAA Division I. It is the only bowl game to feature teams from the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).

John Grant, the game’s executive director, agrees this is good news for the bowl. “We are pleased with the commitment demonstrated by both conference commissioners, their council of presidents and chancellors,” Grant said of the game that will be played at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Dec. 16 (noon ET, on ABC). “This is great news for HBCU football fans, and reflects a greater understanding of the opportunity that the bowl game presents.”

The final SWAC championship game will be played Dec. 2, at NRG Stadium in Houston; the winner will represent the conference in the Celebration Bowl.

Mark W. Wright is the director of special projects for The Undefeated. Born in England and raised in Jamaica, He sends referees running for the hills when they see the soccer dad (and Howard University alum) coming.