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MEAC/SWAC Football Challenge

MEAC/SWAC Challenge brings HBCU swag, fun and football to Atlanta

N.C. Central vs. Prairie View A&M will open the season Sept. 2

The MEAC/SWAC Challenge is coming to Atlanta.

The move came as no surprise. ESPN Events announced that Atlanta would be the host of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC)/Southwest Athletic Conference (SWAC) Challenge until 2020. The game, set to take place Sept. 2 at Pete Petit Field at Georgia State Stadium, will feature a matchup between Prairie View A&M of the SWAC and North Carolina Central of the MEAC.

With the city already hosting the Celebration Bowl, it was only a matter of time before the black college football opener followed suit.

“I think that now — and I’m biased, I admit that — [Atlanta] is the football capital of the universe,” said Dennis E. Thomas, the commissioner of the MEAC. “You have so many events that are here — you have the Super Bowl coming in, you have the college football playoffs here, just on and on and on — and so I think this is absolutely fabulous for each institution.”

The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2. The 2018 Celebration Bowl is set for Dec. 15 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and will be televised live on an ESPN network.

“I think this means a lot to both institutions to get the opportunity to start the season off but also to get a chance to get that exposure on national television,” said Prairie View football coach Eric Dooley. “And I think it’s good for the university, and of course I always think of the recruiting aspect, so I think it’s good not only for the academic side but for the athletic side as well.”

The biggest benefit, however, comes with the pageantry that has come to define historically black college and university (HBCU) football. From the swooning halftime performances to the one-of-a-kind pieces of Divine Nine sorority and fraternity paraphernalia, black college football is unique in that it’s more than just a game — it’s a celestial experience.

“When you look at a SWAC event, a SWAC championship, it’s about that family reunion-type of feel, and I feel like it leaves a good taste in your mouth,” said interim SWAC commissioner Edgar Gantt. “I can’t necessarily explain it all, but you got to be a part of it.”

The interim commissioner shared a personal anecdote about his first homecoming experience. A University of Kentucky graduate who spent most of his career in the SEC, Gantt was blown away after hearing the band play an Earth, Wind & Fire song.

“I called my wife like, ‘You got to come to the next game, it’s amazing.’ It’s just the experience, it’s the overall atmosphere and culture produced from it, and I truly enjoy being a part of it and celebrating it with our student-athletes and coaches.”

With the black college football season now starting and ending in Atlanta, the future is bright for both parties.

“In addition to being a hotbed for college football fandom, Atlanta is a culturally diverse city with a rich history of HBCU education and excellence. To begin the HBCU football season in the same city it concludes in will give fans two vibrant touch points for the excitement and pageantry of these matchups,” said John Grant, ESPN Events’ executive director of the Celebration Bowl.

C. Isaiah Smalls, II is a Rhoden Fellow and a junior at Morehouse College from Lansing, Mich. He studies Cinema, Television and Emerging Media Studies. He is Editor-in-Chief of The Maroon Tiger.