When Tuskegee University last year announced the end of its participation in the annual Turkey Day Classic, many Black college football fans disapproved of the nostalgia-shattering move. But in the weeks after the Golden Tigers’ bold bet on postseason play, their success has yielded benefits for other Alabama HBCUs, and for the Black college imprint on the national college football landscape.
Tuskegee didn’t win its NCAA playoff debut against North Alabama, but save for turnovers and late game miscues, the Tigers’ played far better than even the 30-27 final score would indicate. A long time powerhouse in the SIAC, Tuskegee has taken its talents and legacy on the road to possibly become, along with Winston-Salem State University, an annual contender for a national D-II football championship. With two HBCUs on the national radar, the CIAA and SIAC become more visible sports brands, making more of a case for Division II membership to HBCUs cash strapped and struggling to compete at the DI level.
For those seemingly above the Division I struggle, like Alabama State, success depends on the ability to remain consistent. The Hornet Homecoming was an HBCU rarity in the sense that the Turkey Day Classic was not always guaranteed to be a Hornet victory against rival Tuskegee. But this year, ASU was a strong favorite agains their Classic opponent Stillman, and 14,000 fans left Montgomery satisfied by a 41-28 Hornet win that proved more competitive and appealing than most would have expected.
Alabama State lost in terms of overall attendance when compared to previous games against Tuskegee, but without the real threat of a home loss to TU, the Hornets claimed a sweep of the Magic City and Turkey Day classics for the first time in 15 years, and an eight-win season for the second time in three years. Pending Southern’s outcome in the Bayou Classic on Saturday, ASU’s win gives the SWAC a chance to claim five teams with eight wins or more in the regular season, a sure benefit as the SWAC seeks to earn recognition for their teams to be ranked among the nation’s top 25 mid-major programs.
For Stillman, a national television appearance, a bigger stage in their home state and a competitive game against a DI opponent are just a few of the benefits the Tigers got out of their Turkey Day Classic experience. Who knows how much athletic development, fan engagement and corporate attention has ticked up for the Tigers as a result of their turn against Alabama State?
And for a state gearing up for this weekend’s ‘game of the century’ in the Alabama-Auburn Iron Bowl, Alabama HBCUs made out quite well in the coverage and hype surrounding playoff and classic football.
Tuskegee opted out of the Turkey Day Classic last year to open new doors in national exposure for its athletic program. The door opened by Tuskegee has allowed Alabama State, Stillman, the SIAC and the SWAC access to a new area of the Black college sports branding that, without the Golden Tigers’ vision, may have remained locked by the inertia of the status quo for years to come.