BY ANDREAS BUTLER
It’s as if the 2016 MEAC/SWAC Challenge never happened.
Inclement weather caused the highly anticipated HBCU football matchup to be canceled and there will be no makeup game.
It does not count in the record books. The statistics don’t matter. There is no official attendance although it’s estimated that about 6,000 fans attended the Sept. 4 showdown at Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach.
The MEAC (Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) and SWAC (Southwestern Athletic Conference) was supposed to be a full weekend of events in Daytona Beach. But bad weather from Hurricane Hermine ended the ESPN-sponsored matchup early.
On Sunday, Alcorn State University (SWAC) led Bethune-Cookman (MEAC) 13-7 with 7:14 remaining in the second quarter when lightning delayed the game, which was airing live nationally on ESPN. After a two-hour and 57-minute delay, which included several attempts to restart the game was finally called.
“Both teams gave it their best. It came down to the safety of the students and the fans. Both teams wanted to finish. ESPN was willing to stay as long as necessary. We tried to get back out there several times but lightning kept coming again and again,” said Lynn Thompson, Bethune-Cookman’s vice president of Collegiate Athletics.
‘No harm done’
The unfinished game will have no negative financial implications for either school, the conferences or ESPN.
There was disappointment but still some satisfaction from students, fans and alumni.
B-CU student Fidline Ecxat responded, “It’s pretty crazy. I wish that they could have played it out.
I think that our team has practiced in worst weather. Good thing it won’t affect our record since we didn’t make it to half time.”
Alcorn State student Travelle Ware stated, “Everything happens for a reason. Fortunately, there was no harm done.’’
Vickie Cooley of Heidelberg, Mississippi came to Daytona Beach to root for Alcorn State. “I wished that the Braves could have shown B-CU how we really came to compete,’’ she remarked. Alcorn State is located in Lorman, Mississippi.
Bethune-Cookman Class of 1988 alum and fan Angela Nealy traveled up from Orlando to see the game. “It sucks, but I’m glad that they paid attention to the weather and avoided innocent people getting hurt,” she commented.
This was the first year the game wasn’t played at a neutral site stadium.
For the past eight years, the game was played in Orlando, mainly at the Florida Citrus Bowl (now Camping World Stadium).
In 2014, the game took place at the Bright House Networks Stadium on the campus of the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
The first three years, the MEAC/SWAC Challenge was played at Legions Field in Birmingham, Alabama.
But this year ESPN decided to make the game a home-and-home series between the conferences.
The 2016 game was at a MEAC home site while next year’s game is scheduled at a SWAC home site as Southern University will host South Carolina State.
Easier to attend
Fans seemed to like the idea and possibilities of the game at conference home sites.
“It’s good for us playing at home. It’s great publicity for us on the national scene. It’s also good that it was at home, making it easier for us students to attend,” said Imani Smith.
Twenty-year Bethune-Cookman fan James Ashley complained about the price of tailgating going up from $10 to $20 but will support his school anyway.
“It’s all about money,” he noted. “The move to the home sites. Games involving Florida State (University) are a bigger draw economically and fan wise for the Orlando stadium than our HBCU draw.”
Sunday’s football game wasn’t the only MEAC/SWAC Challenge weekend event that was canceled because of the weather.
A Friday morning seminar at Mainland High School, hosted by ESPN, was canceled because of the weather conditions. ESPN’s Jay Harris was supposed to moderate a panel made up of five sports industry professionals. They were supposed to offer career insight and words of wisdom to about 400 students.
However, on Saturday, the welcome and pep rally went on as planned.