SWAC reinstates championship game in Birmingham

(STATS) – The Southwestern Athletic Conference called an audible Thursday, announcing it will host a conference championship game this year, reversing an earlier decision.

The 10-member conference of historically black colleges and universities will play its 20th championship game on Dec. 1 at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama. As usual, the only conference championship game on the FCS level will match the SWAC’s East and West division champions.

In addition, the SWAC said its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments will return to Birmingham for the first time since 2010. That event will be held at Bill Harris Arena, located adjacent to the Birmingham Crossplex, from March 13-16.

The future of the two SWAC events beyond the 2018-19 school year is expected to be determined after a new commissioner is hired by the conference.

“I’m grateful to Mayor Randall Woodfin and the city of Birmingham on this renewed partnership to bring the SWAC football and basketball championships back to the Magic City,” interim commissioner Edgar Gantt said. “Birmingham is a city rich in sports tradition, particularly with SWAC football, and the city has made many improvements to its sports infrastructure here in Birmingham. This next year will play an important part as the SWAC prepares for its centennial celebration.”

In June 2017, the SWAC announced it would suspend the football championship game following last season, presumably because of financial reasons, although the conference said the conference’s presidents and chancellors wanted to shift focus to the Celebration Bowl, where the SWAC champ meets the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference winner.

The decision was not fully embraced across the SWAC, sparking continued interest and eventually discussion for continuing the championship game. Thursday’s announcement came one day before SWAC members gather in Birmingham for their football media day.

The conference held the first 14 championship games at Legion Field from 1999-2012 and the last five at Houston’s NRG Stadium, beginning in 2013. Although the first three games in Houston ranked in the top five of the series for attendance (an average of 39,435), it fell considerably the last two years, including just 24,610 last December when Grambling State earned its record eighth title game win.

This year’s Celebration Bowl will be played Dec. 15 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.