Could North Alabama Bring an HBCU To Toyota Field?
With less attractive options to play at Huntsville’s ballpark than last year, North Alabama may need to look to HBCUs for its spotlight game.
Recently, North Alabama and the rest of the ASun-WAC announced its schedule for the 2023 season, and naturally for Lions fans, the question of who they would play at Toyota Field lurks. Last season, the game was a smash hit as a sellout crowd of (10,124) saw the Lions face Jacksonville State in a Yellowhammer State clash.
This season, Jacksonville State heads to Conference USA and the Lions do not have a home game against another Alabama school. While home games against ASun counterparts Eastern Kentucky, and Central Arkansas could draw well at Toyota Field, they likely will not draw as much as Jacksonville State did.
So, this begs the titular question, could North Alabama play an HBCU in the Huntsville area park? There are four football-playing HBCUs in Alabama, two in the SWAC in Alabama A&M and Alabama State, and two more in the Division II SIAC: Tuskegee and Miles College.
Both Alabama HBCUs in the FBS draw well, with Alabama State ranking 16th in attendance (10,881/game) and Alabama A&M ranking 19th (10,241/game).
Alabama A&M would be the most ideal as they are located in Huntsville while Toyota Field is in a suburb of Huntsville, Madison, Alabama. Additionally, the Bulldogs campus is roughly 70 miles from North Alabama's campus, so it would be a battle for northern Alabama football supremacy. The schools already have a significant history with one another as they have faced off 24 times from 1975-2019 with the Lions holding a 19-4-1 edge over Alabama A&M.
The Lions have never played Alabama State but the Hornets would also be a good option. The Hornets are considerably further from Madison, AL than Alabama A&M, being about a 2.5-hour drive away, but Hornets fans travel well to North Alabama, with the Magic City Classic in Birmingham between them and AAMU drawing well every year.
The Division II HBCUs are also an option but likely would not travel well. Tuskegee is a national HBCU brand, but does not travel to Northern Alabama well, as they are about 220 miles away from Huntsville and 130 miles from Birmingham. For the past two seasons, the Golden Tigers have played Morehouse at venerable Legion Field and the attendance has been sparse, with 6,798 fans attending in 2021 and only 2389 fans attending in 2022.
Miles is less than 100 miles away in Fairfield, AL but has a small fanbase that likely would not travel well to Huntsville. The Golden Bears averaged 2854 fans per home game with a low attendance of 808.
With their one Alabama rival gone, North Alabama must look elsewhere to find an attractive opponent for its ballpark showcase game. Thinking outside the box and renewing HBCU rivalries looks to be the best solution for the program’s exposure and wallet.
The North Alabama Football Record Book aided my research. You can check it out here.