After a 16 year hiatus, the latest rendition of a postseason bowl game to determine a black college football national champion is now official. The champions of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and the Southwestern Athletic Conference will meet in a postseason bowl game on December 19th at the Georgia Dome in the inaugural Celebration Bowl.
A press release stated, “the Celebration Bowl is committed to providing the champions of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and the Southwestern Athletic Conference, and their alumni, fans and sponsors a first-class bowl experience while continuing to celebrate the legacy, values and traditions of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.”
“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,” MEAC commissioner Dennis Thomas said in a statement. “Our continued partnership with ESPN will give our coaches, student-athletes and fans an opportunity to participate in an exciting bowl game, on a national stage, which will showcase their institutions and talented football programs. Adding a national television opportunity for our champion, during this time of year, only furthers our branding and marketability.”
The Celebration Bowl is the most recent incarnation of the now dormant Heritage Bowl and defunct Pelican Bowl. One major and controversial distinction between the Celebration Bowl and its predecessors is the MEAC champion will relinquish its automatic qualifier (AQ) slot into the FCS Playoffs in order to participate in the game. (The FCS Playoffs did not exist when the Pelican Bowl was operational (1972, 74-75) and the MEAC champion sometimes declined the automatic Heritage Bowl (1991-99) bid in favor of participating in the FCS (then I-AA) playoffs.
The financial payouts, length of the contract, and other pertinent details of the agreement have not yet been divulged. What we do know is the game is the property of ESPN Events and will be broadcasted on the ESPN family of Networks. It will be the second ESPN-created MEAC-SWAC game. (The MEAC/SWAC Challenge has been played for the past 10 seasons on Labor Day Weekend.) We also know there remains a chance that a MEAC team can participate in the FCS playoffs if it receives an at-large invitation. Bethune-Cookman is believed to have been the first at-large team omitted in 2014 and South Carolina State received an at-large invite in 2013.