The Return of the Bayou Classic

HBCU football is better off when Grambling and Southern are showing out.

Courtesy: Frederick Pinkney

HBCU football is better off when Grambling and Southern are showing out.

There are certain standards that the nation’s most popular black college football game, even after 43 editions, has to meet for fans to recognize the Bayou Classic in its purest form.

First, a berth in the SWAC championship game must be at stake, which typically means both Grambling State University and Southern University are among the conference’s top teams. Second, alumni and fans have to approach 70,000 strong in the Superdome for the game to be anywhere near its historical fever pitch in and around the stadium.

Above all else, the game has to end in a shootout, just for fans new and old to know the game remains in the tradition of the rivalry and its roots as a sports entertainment property.

Yesterday’s game had all of the elements of a quintessential Bayou Classic game, and while the final score did not exhibit the kind of show Grambling and Southern put on, it affirmed the return of a football epic that in many ways, carries the weight of HBCU football culture upon its outcomes.

The Tiger passing attack got out in front of the Jaguar rushing attack, using a 21-point third quarter to sprint to a 52–30 win in New Orleans. But the classic performances were secondary to all of the work both teams put in throughout the regular season to engage Tiger and Southern fans to come and support the game.

Grambling surges past Southern in the second half to win Bayou Classic 52-30, secure SWAC…
NEW ORLEANS - The Tigers of Grambling left no room for doubt as to who was the best team on the Superdome turf for the…

It is hard to believe that yesterday was the first time both teams came into the Bayou Classic with eight-game winning streaks and undefeated conference records, with the SWAC Western Division in the balance. Fans responded as such, setting a post-Katrina attendance mark for the second consecutive year with 67,845 fans in the building.

The teams won throughout the season; fans showed up, the bands kept up their end of the bargain at halftime, and the final product was one of which everyone in Louisiana and watching throughout the nation could be proud.

Time will tell how much the brand extends beyond the signature game into development for its athletic, academic and legislative profiles. Both schools are in desperate need of whatever boost the game can provide; especially as media continue to attach a tragic French Quarter shooting to the game.

9 shot, one killed on Bourbon Street in NOLA after the Bayou Classic
NEW ORLEANS - One person was killed and nine others injured following a shooting early Sunday on Bourbon Street in New…

How do these schools, their administrations, and their fans use the moment to translate into revenue? How can both schools sell more apparel, move more tickets to regular season home games, secure more commercial revenue from local business and extend the digital broadcast and content exposure that both teams and their bands deliver?

Could both schools be signed to a major agency like William Morris or Creative Artists, who can get the Tiger and Jaguar brands placed in commercials, movies, and other revenue-based work to make up for what state appropriations and too few wealthy alumni donors can not deliver?

Grambling and Southern have enough resonance with Black America that guaranteed games should no longer be a primary source of exposure and income, but an option for when talent and experience puts a program in position to compete with, and to beat, a higher-level NCAA opponent.

The Bayou Classic is back, and with it, should come some new opportunities through which both football teams, and potentially the schools, should flourish.