The Tuskegee-Morehouse Classic’s Birmingham experiment has been less than magical. After decades at AJ McClung Stadium in Columbus, Georgia, the rivalry moved to the Magic City in 2021.
In the first year, the Maroon Tigers and Golden Tigers played to a crowd of 6,798, which not only left over 90% of Legion Field empty but was a nearly 80% decrease in attendance from the 31,091 fans who flocked to AJ McClung Stadium in 2019.
Somehow, things got worse for the Classic the following year as attendance dropped to an embarrassing 2,389 fans. The Tuskegee-Morehouse Classic was always going to be a tough sell as not only are humans creatures of habit, but Birmingham is considerably further than Columbus for Tuskegee fans at two hours away.
Yet, MLB may have handed the city of Birmingham a lifeline when it comes to hosting the Tuskegee-Morehouse Classic. Yesterday, MLB announced historic Rickwood Field in Birmingham would host the 2024 Field of Dreams game between the Giants and Cardinals. Rickwood Field is the oldest still-standing professional baseball stadium in the United States, opening in 1910 and boasting several baseball legends who graced its grounds such as Willie Mays and Satchel Paige and Negro League legends like Mule Suttles and Bill Foster.
The ballpark is a national treasure and MLB aligning itself and branding a game at Rickwood with the same moniker as the original Field of Dreams game brings Rickwood Field back into the national limelight. For this reason, HBCU classics like the Tuskegee-Morehouse Classic and Red Tails Classic need to move to Rickwood Field for at least one year.
Legion Field and the Cramton Bowl are historic venues that contribute much to the blood of college football, but they both lack the cultural significance of Rickwood Field. Rickwood Field and Hinchliffe Stadium, which reopened this year to host Frontier League baseball after years of inactivity, are two of the few physical remnants left of the Negro Leagues. Preserving these parks and bringing them to prominence keep stories of great athletes unjustly denied a chance alive and safe from being overshadowed.
Beyond the historical aspect, Rickwood Field’s capacity reduces some of the burden schools face when holding a classic at Legion Field or the Cramton Bowl with its smaller capacity. Seating 10,800 fans, it is much easier for schools to commit to a classic if they only have to sell 4,000-5,000 tickets instead of the inflated quantities needed to break even at the Cramton Bowl or Legion Field.
Rickwood Field is sewn into the fabric of Black College Football as much as it is to professional baseball. The historic ballpark hosted the Vulcan Bowl, a New Year’s Day Black College Football bowl game from 1941-1949 as well as numerous other HBCU football games.
Legendary coaches like Eddie Robinson and Cleve Abbott coached their teams in the game. In the same way, a game at Rickwood brings baseball history to life, the ghosts of Black College Football's past would awaken.
A look at the football alignment from the Vulcan Bowl shows football is a tight fit, but there are ways around that as football games at Wrigley Field and Toyota Field in Madison, Alabama have shown.
Tuskegee does not have to be the only school to partake in the experience of a football game at Rickwood since any of Alabama’s other two Division II HBCUs would be a solid fit. Additionally, FCS HBCUs that appeared in the game such as Grambling, Tennessee State, and North Carolina A&T can pay homage to their histories by making a return to Rickwood Field.
The Field of Dreams may have been a baseball movie, but HBCUs can have their own “Field of Dreams” game. Black College Football’s rich history is integral to its allure for college football fans. Not promoting this history with a game at Rickwood Field is a lost opportunity for HBCUs.