The State Fair Classic has been a staple in not only the Dallas and Black College football scene but the Texas football scene for decades. Prairie View has played at the Cotton Bowl yearly since 1929, squaring off against Grambling since 1985.
In 2018, optimistic organizers added a second yearly game with Texas Southern and Southern at the Cotton Bowl. After playing at the Cotton Bowl in 2018 and 2019, the game moved to the Texas Rangers' old ballpark-turned-football stadium, Choctaw Stadium, but the results have been lackluster at best.
The results were disastrous, with only 17,105 fans traveling to the Cotton Bowl that year. The next year it somehow got worse as only 5,136 fans watched Southern and Texas Southern play in the Cotton Bowl. The change of scenery to Globe Life Park/Choctaw Stadium was an improvement, but not by much as 15,736 fans showed up in 2021 and 16,667 in 2022. In contrast here are the attendances for the State Fair Classic from 2018-2022:
- 2018: 47,291
- 2019: 52,315
- 2021: 26,198
- 2022: 53,971
Shockingly, the cumulative attendance of the four State Fair/Arlington Showdowns was less than 1,000 fans more than the 2022 State Fair Classic’s attendance.
Fast forward to last week, and the Arlington Showdown was absent from both schools' schedule releases. With the Alabama SWAC schools and even Mississippi Valley State announcing its classics last week, all signs seem to indicate the Arlington/State Fair Showdown is history. So what went wrong?
The idea of the State Fair Showdown was a good one and this article is by no means a criticism of it or the fanbases of either school. With each year, the Cotton Bowl becomes more and more a relic of a pastime in college football and Texas. The stadium is the site of only two games, the Red River Rivalry and the State Fair Classic. Bringing a second game to the stadium was a great idea.
However, the State Fair/Arlington Showdown was a victim of being the lesser-known HBCU classic in town. With the attendance numbers it drew, the primary source of attendance was likely alums in the DFW area. Local fans likely were less inclined to watch a second SWAC game in the span of a few weeks in the DFW area.
Additionally, history may have doomed the game. I dissected the history of the State Fair Classic above, but the rich history of Texas Southern and Southern's main rivalries also plays a factor. Everyone knows about the Bayou Classic, but the Boombox Classic also has a higher focus than Southern's rivalry with Texas Southern. For Texas Southern, the Labor Day Classic against Prairie View is the main focus of attention for the Tigers. The State Fair/Arlington Showdown was optimistic but was no match for these realities.
For Southern fans, asking them to drive 6 to 7 hours to the Dallas area is a huge demand with the Bayou Classic being the more important trip. The Jaguars were also the road team in the SWAC Championship in 2018, 2019, and 2022, three of the four years of the Arlington Showdown's existence, giving Southern fans even less reason to make the trip to Dallas.
So what happens to the Arlington Showdown now? The Showdown could always look to two other HBCUs in the area as the new headliner. Langston University in the NAIA is a 3.5-hour drive away and their Sooner Conference running mate, Texas College, the only other HBCU in the conference is a 2-hour drive away in Tyler. These schools will likely not draw as much as Texas Southern and Southern but will bring fans into the area nonetheless. A classic like this is a rare opportunity for both programs.
Aside from this, the classic has few options. The Arlington Classic may simply become a footnote in SWAC history. Still, at least it produced some competitive games and allowed players and fans to experience a historic venue in the Cotton Bowl and a unique one in Globe Life Field/Choctaw Stadium.