The Howard University Bison and Morehouse College Maroon Tigers will face each other on the football field for the first time in seven years this Saturday, September 17th, at MetLife Stadium, home to the Jets and Giants. Over 30,000 spectators are expected to grace the stands at the inaugural Toyota HBCU Football Classic. The teams have faced each other 37 times with Howard having the overall advantage 25-10-2 in addition to winning the last matchup in 2015 35-17.
“We are looking forward to a hard fought football contest against a solid Howard football team who has shown to play responsibly in all three phases of the game,” said Rich Freeman, Morehouse’s head football coach. “After having played two of the toughest teams in Division 2 football, we feel that we’ve had good preparation for the depth that Howard will boast as an FCS opponent.”
This match up is highly anticipated as both Morehouse and Howard are winless so far in the 2022 season. However, both teams have faced formidable competition in the last two weeks with Morehouse falling 42-0 to the University of West Georgia and Howard facing the University of Central Florida for the first time ever (a 42-20 loss).
“For us, it’s all about us, we can’t worry about the opponent,” said Larry Scott, Howard’s head football coach. “We have to get to the point where we clean up and control the things we need to clean up and control, then we’ll put ourselves in a position to win. We’re a football team that’s good enough, [the players] believe and they play hard.”
While both institutions are known for their educational achievements, the teams are eager to leave a larger legacy in the realm of sports.
“These two school names reign synonymous in most Black homes across America as two of the cultural and tradition rich HBCUs,” said Scott. “These are two strong historic brands academically and what we want to do is bring more presence to the athletic side of what both these great universities represent as well.”
What is a HBCU Classic?
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have a strong legacy built off talent and tradition, especially in the realm of sports. Black college football reigns as a community staple for students, alumni and fans alike due to legendary matchups dating back to the early 1900s. Unlike bowl games, classics take place during college football’s regular season at a neutral site and include a wide range of events like college fairs, step shows, tailgates and parades.
The history of HBCU classics dates back to early 1921, and the first formal reference to a classic in respect to HBCUs is accredited to the 1919 game between Howard University and Lincoln University on Thanksgiving Day. In 1921, that matchup was played as the “Colored Football Classic.” However, the two schools’ rivalry on the field dates back to 1893 at a competition strictly organized by the students on the campus of Howard University in front of 2,000 spectators on the gridiron.
“In the thirty years that these annual contests have been played, the Howard-Lincoln Classic has grown by leaps and bounds until it has become the outstanding athletic and social event for Negroes in America,” wrote a Howard student in a 1924 edition of The Hilltop. “What the Harvard-Yale and the Army-Navy struggle are to white Americans, the Howard-Lincoln Classic is to Negroes.”
Many of the contemporary classics were birthed from the divide of segregation. The widely celebrated Orange Blossom Classic hosted by Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University started in 1933 as a Black equivalent to the white only Orange Bowl hosted by the University of Miami. Under the same guise, Grambling State University created the Sugar Cup Classic as an alternative to the Sugar Bowl.
Impact of HBCU Classics
To date, these games are some of the most attended and highest earning events for HBCUs. Every year, the Bayou Classic between Southern University and Grambling State University pulls in over 250,000 visitors and generates an estimated $50 million in revenue for the state of Louisiana. The 2022 edition of the Bayou Classic is set to air on NBC and Peacock on Saturday, November 26th from the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans.
As a whole, the culture surrounding Black football has continued to develop and thrive throughout the four surviving HBCU conferences. This weekend the HBCU New York Football Classic is set to premiere at the MetLife Stadium between Howard University and Morehouse.
“With the spotlight focused on HBCUs over the past couple years, it’s vital that we support each other on the field of play and in the academic arena, regardless of conference affiliation,” said Sonja Stills, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference commissioner. “Contests like the HBCU NYU Football Classic are just one means of showing that support.”
Sponsorships from Toyota and HBCU Tools for Schools are set to provide scholarships and resources to HBCU students across the nation. Google is the official sponsor of the Halftime show and has committed to providing $350,000 in funding including a $210,000 scholarship donation to over 100 HBCU Students.
“I’m a proud graduate of Hampton University and know first-hand how informative my years on campus were, not only for my professional career but my personal development as a leader as well,” said Melonie Parker, Chief Diversity Officer at Google. “And while campus life and curriculums may have changed since I walked those halls, having access to the proper tools, resources and networks remains critical to the success of every student. By working alongside these institutions, Google hopes to create more access and insight into the tech world and help give students the tools early on to better prepare them for a career in tech.”
- Where: MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey
- When: Saturday, September 17 at 3:00 PM ET
- Stream live: Watch on Peacock and CNBC
Author’s note: Ashleigh Fields is a well-established writer, award-winning journalist and two-time self-published author who previously served as the Editor-in-Chief for The Hilltop, Howard University’s campus newspaper. She is an avid speaker with an interest in education and public policy. You can read more of her work here.