Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Mid-Eastern Athletic and Southwestern Athletic conferences, the two Division I conferences for historically black colleges and universities, are going back to the future.
The MEAC and SWAC announced Wednesday through ESPN that their conference football champions will face each other in the newly created Celebration Bowl on Dec. 19 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The game will be broadcast on an ESPN network.
The two conferences have a long history of playing each other while trying to decide a national champion in black college football, and the Celebration Bowl is expected to become an annual event.
In sending its champion to the bowl, the 11-member MEAC will relinquish its automatic bid to the NCAA FCS playoffs, although the other member schools will be eligible for at-large bids. Morgan State lost in the first round last year, continuing a playoff drought for the conference, including some at-large qualifiers, since 1999.
The 10-member SWAC hasn't sent a team to the national playoffs since 1997 and has hosted a conference championship game between its two division winners since '99. Alcorn State beat defending champion Southern in last year's title game.
But FCS playoff games are not necessarily big money-makers for competing programs, so the new bowl game figures to deliver financial rewards to the MEAC and SWAC. A potential $1 million payout is possible for each one and comes when many HBCU athletic programs are struggling financially.
"This is a great opportunity for our schools and student-athletes to compete on a national stage and showcase the talent that exists within HBCUs," SWAC commissioner Duer Sharp said. "And to have it during bowl season, the most exciting time in college football, is a bonus."
Added MEAC commissioner Dennis Thomas, "As part of the conference's continued efforts in branding and increasing its exposure on a national platform, I am elated that champions from the MEAC and the SWAC will compete in a bowl game, during the most exciting time of the year for collegiate football. "
The MEAC and SWAC had its champions play each other in the Pelican Bowl in 1972, '74 and '75, but the game folded because of poor attendance. The bowl was followed by the Heritage Bowl from 1991-99, and it drew stronger attendance but ended after the MEAC preferred to be represented by its runner-up and instead send its champion to the NCAA playoffs.
A meeting between the two conference champions was discussed five years ago - and dubbed the Heritage Bowl - but MEAC school presidents voted against participating in it.
Both conferences send a team to the ESPN-sponsored MEAC-SWAC Challenge on Labor Day Weekend. This year's 11th installment on Sept. 6 in Orlando, Florida, will pit MEAC power South Carolina State against Arkansas-Pine Bluff from the SWAC.
The Ivy League also doesn't compete in the FCS playoffs. Moving forward, the 24-team field is expected to be comprised of 10 automatic bids and 14 at-large bids among the 10 participating conferences.