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HBCU Football

MEAC/SWAC Challenge and Celebration Bowl sign deal with ESPN Events through 2026

Renewed sponsorship starts with N.C. Central vs. Alcorn State in Atlanta on Aug. 28

The Cricket MEAC/SWAC Challenge Kickoff and the Cricket Celebration Bowl, which start and end the football season for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), have signed a new six-year deal with ESPN Events.

The agreement with the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) solidifies ESPN’s continued support of HBCU football, its traditions and legacy through 2026. ESPN Events produces both games, along with other NCAA bowl games.

The Cricket MEAC/SWAC Challenge began in 2005 and is now scheduled to kick off ESPN’s college football programming. This year’s matchup on Aug. 28, at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta, features North Carolina Central vs. Alcorn State in prime time on ESPN. Future matchups include Alabama State vs. Howard (2022), South Carolina State vs. Jackson State (2023) and Florida A&M vs. Norfolk State (2024).

It will be the first matchup between Alcorn State and N.C. Central, and the fall season also marks the 100th anniversary of football at Alcorn State.

“We are thrilled to continue our relationship with these two incredible conferences,” said Clint Overby, vice president of ESPN Events. “The Cricket MEAC/SWAC Challenge Kickoff and Cricket Celebration Bowl have been mainstays on our Events roster, and we’ve seen tremendous growth for these storied games. We look forward to their continued success, and celebrating HBCU football for years to come.”

The Cricket Celebration Bowl, in its seventh year, will be played on Dec. 18 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The postseason bowl game will feature conference champions from the MEAC and SWAC.

“The opportunity to produce content that tells the stories, through these sports properties, of the impact of HBCUs is an important foundation of our work,“ said John T. Grant, executive director of the Kickoff and Celebration Bowl. “There is no better place than Atlanta or platform than ESPN and The Undefeated for those stories to be told.”

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, both games were not played in 2020. In the 2019 Celebration Bowl, North Carolina A&T beat Alcorn State 24-22, and in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge, Sept. 1, 2019, Bethune-Cookman beat Jackson State 36-15.

MEAC commissioner Dennis Thomas said the televised games are tremendous opportunities for recruiting talented students. “The national publicity enhances our brand and exposure and showcases our institutions, student-athletes and coaches to the world.”

Charles McClelland, SWAC commissioner, said because of the sponsorship he looks forward to continuing to bring SWAC football into the homes of millions in the coming years.

“This relationship provides an extremely unique opportunity for us to showcase our membership and the outstanding student-athletes and programs from within our conference,” said McClelland.

This year, as part of ESPN’s coverage of the games, First Take Live will be broadcast from Center Parc Stadium on Aug. 27. The show, featuring Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman and host Molly Qerim Rose, will hype fans for the game. It will be the first roadshow of the year for the First Take crew.

First Take’s MEAC/SWAC Challenge Kickoff roadshow in Atlanta in August will be the first of several special on-site telecasts that spotlight and celebrate HBCUs throughout the 2021-22 school year.