The HBCU world this weekend had a somber pall over it as Jackson State and Tennessee State played in the final edition of the Southern Heritage Classic for the time being. The drama surrounding Jackson State’s exit from the classic is another story in itself, but the events on the field were rather anticlimactic as Jackson State won 16-3 at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis.
Now, Tennessee State is left without a yearly showcase HBCU Classic. While the school hosts the John Merritt Classic yearly, the game is merely another home game for the fanbase.
This weekend was supposed to be the debut of a new HBCU classic in the Volunteer State as Kentucky State and Fort Valley State were slated to play in the Scenic City Classic at UT-Chattanooga’s home stadium, Finley Stadium on September 11. However, the game quietly moved back to Fort Valley State’s home stadium.
It is so difficult for a young HBCU to gain credibility these days. It’s even difficult for established classics like the Circle City and Chicago Football Classics to hold their games without established regional HBCU brands. While it is good to start modest and get D2 programs that may not be as big household names as the FCS HBCUs, Chattanooga’s Scenic City Classic is in the right place at the right time to anchor itself for the future.
With the Southern Heritage Classic leaving an opening on the schedule, the Scenic City Classic can take its place. Chattanooga is only a two-hour drive from Nashville and about 80 miles closer to the Music City than Memphis. Finley Stadium seats 20,412, so there will not be as much pressure for the Tigers to sell tickets as in the Southern Heritage Classic.
The Tigers have a couple of ideal opponents as well. Alabama A&M is less than two hours away from Chattanooga in Huntsville. The Bulldogs played in the Gulf Coast Challenge at Mobile’s Ladd-Peebles Stadium last season and will play in the classic in 2022 and 2024. Needless to say, Bulldogs fans may need a change of pace and would be a logical choice for the Scenic City Classic.
Another possible opponent of course is UT-Chattanooga of course. The Scenic City Classic can just be a home game that celebrates the contributions of HBCUs to the Chattanooga community. Tennessee State would likely draw more fans than the Mocs’ recent home non-conference games against, Austin Peay, Eastern Illinois, and James Madison, which all drew below 9,000.
The two schools have played nine times before but surprisingly, the last meeting was in 1997. The game drew 20,000 at Finley Stadium.*
Even this year, home matchups against Bethune-Cookman and fellow Volunteer State HBCU, Lane College would have been ideal matchups for a Scenic City Classic.
Chattanooga’s Scenic City Classic did not get off to the best start this year, but luckily, the current climate of HBCU classics allows them to possibly land one of the region’s biggest HBCU brands. Yet, they must act soon.
*Series information for the Tennessee State-UT Chattanooga series was gathered from the 2019 TSU Media Guide.