MEAC-SWAC Celebration Bowl Shows Surprising Success In Its First Year

Coin Flip 2015 Celebration Bowl

ATLANTA, GA. — I was wrong.

When the first-ever Celebration Bowl was announced back in March and it was noted that the MEAC would have to give up its automatic berth to the FCS Playoffs, I was very much an opponent of the idea.

As a former SID at a MEAC school in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, the playoffs are all I knew.

Now in all fairness, a lot of the details weren’t revealed until late. The announcement came later that the game would be televised on ABC. ESPN is good. ABC is great.


Then it was announced that each team would receive $1 million. (It is my understanding that the actual guarantee was $500,000 per school and a $250,000 ticket allotment).

Still major.

With each announcement like these I began to soften my stance.

If you’ve listened to BOXTORW, you know I am all about getting your money. The FCS playoffs would not have provided that kind of revenue or exposure. Plus, our FCS HBCUs have not fared well recently in the playoffs.

When MEAC commissioner Dennis Thomas came on BOXTOROW the week of the announcement of the bowl, I grilled him a bit from a fan perspective about this Celebration Bowl and the playoffs.

He declined to mention the payout. But he stood firm.

He knew that MEAC fans weren’t going to be on board with this at first.

He had a vision, however. And that vision came to fruition on Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Being at the game and being able to call the game, being a part of the festivities; wow. I have covered a lot of events in my days. Super Bowls, NBA Finals, NBA All-Star Weekends, U.S. Opens, NHL All-Star games, MLB All-star Games.

The Celebration Bowl for me was right up there.

Alcorn State put up a valiant effort, down 24-6 in the second quarter and came all the way back to tie the game twice in the fourth quarter before North Carolina A&T took a 41-34 lead with just over four minutes remaining.

The game came down to the last play of the game with ASU having the ball inside the Aggies 10 and an arrant pass on 4th down sealed the victory for A&T.

I am not sure if Commissioner Thomas envisioned that 35,528 people would be at the game.

On the Saturday before Christmas?

That’s a huge win.

As a matter of fact, not only did the Celebration Bowl kickoff the college bowl season, six other Bowls were played that day, all involving FBS schools and the only bowl that topped the CB in attendance was the Vegas Bowl which had 42,213 people in attendance.

The ratings would also indicate that the game was at the very least solid numbers wise which should be encouraging for ABC.

The Celebration Bowl garnered a 1.89 rating. Comparatively speaking, last year’s Bayou Classic on NBC drew a 0.7 rating, which was up 40% from 2013.

Furthermore, the Celebration Bowl was the second most watched college sporting event on Saturday behind only the Las Vegas Bowl (BYU vs. Utah) which followed, garnering a 2.41 rating.

The CB ran over into the time of the Las Vegas Bowl which means some of the Las Vegas Bowl numbers belong to CB.

Further comparison shows that CB beat out the #22-UCLA/#11-UNC basketball game which aired at 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS (CB began at 12 Noon ET) and garnered a 0.96 rating, followed by Ohio State/#4-Kenucky at 3:30 p.m. which garnered a 1.69 rating. CB also beat out FOX’s UFC coverage at 8:00 p.m. which garnered a 1.82 rating.

Ratings aside, I can only imagine what this game looked like on television.

The exciting plays. The excitement of the game coming down to the wire. ESPN Events – who puts the game on – and ABC must have been thrilled.

The game had all the elements that television loves.

Drama. Storylines. Excitement.

Tarik Cohen.

The Aggies running back carried the ball 22 times for 295 yards and three touchdowns. The touchdown runs were of 74 yards, 83 yards and the game-winning 73-yard run with 4:17 remaining.

Cohen also had a scintillating 52-yard run on a screen pass, which set up a one-yard quarterback sneak by Kwashaun Quick which put the Aggies up 34-27.

Cohen is box office. Those who follow HBCU football know.

Those who follow FCS football know. Those who follow the bigger schools in college football may be not as much.

Now everybody knows Tarik Cohen.

There is no doubt the Celebration Bowl is off to a good start. Sustainability is the key. Alcorn and North Carolina A&T fans follow their respective teams well so those fans will travel.

The CB needs to prepare itself for a matchup of a Delaware State and Texas Southern for example, two schools whose fans traditionally don’t travel.

This was not only a win for North Carolina A&T (literally), Alcorn State, MEAC and SWAC, this was a win for HBCU football. Saturday was a historic and magical day.

These type of bowls come around every 20 years or so. First, there was the Pelican Bowl which lasted for three seasons in the 70’s. It seemed to never have had a chance. Then, the Heritage Bowl in the 90’s played at the same Georgia Dome and lasted for nine seasons with moderate success but faded.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a piece about the MEAC getting snubbed from an at-large berth in the playoffs, more specifically, Bethune-Cookman with its 9-2 record.


The FCS power rankings say the SWAC and the MEAC are 10th and 12th, respectively out of 14 conferences. FCS playoff committee: You can have the FCS playoffs.

We got our own thing. It’s HBCU football.

It’s beautiful. And it’s back on the map.

Editor’s note: This column is courtesy of

About Donal Ware

Since August 20, 2005, Donal Ware has been the host of the national talk show FROM THE PRESS BOX TO PRESS ROW which airs on SiriusXM as well as radio stations across the country. More information can be found at