A series of events led to the upcoming SWAC Championship Game quickly evolving from an on-campus situation to a neutral site location.
It all started Wednesday when Mississippi Valley State announced that would be unable to play its scheduled game against SWAC East champion Alabama A&M because of COVID-19 issues within its program.
That meant Alabama A&M, which was tied in the overall standings with SWAC West champion Arkansas-Pine Bluff, didn’t have an easy path to potentially secure home-field advantage in the conference title game.
Tiebreaker scenarios would then be in play, but executing one of those wouldn’t likely be equitable to either Alabama A&M or Arkansas-Pine Bluff considering the apparent inequity in scheduling.
So, the league announced Wednesday that the championship game would be played in Jackson, Mississippi — a neutral site — because of “cancellations that directly impacted Alabama A&M and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.”
SWAC Commissioner Dr. Charles McClelland spoke with HBCU Gameday and explained how the conference arrived at the decision to pivot to a neutral site.
McClelland explained that both schools in the running for home-field suggested the game be played at a site other than its own home stadiums.
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“From a fairness standpoint, there was equal argument on both sides,” he told the website. “Both institutions realized that it was in their best interests to come together, and it was the conference office that realized it was in the best interest for everybody to come together and do what was most fair in this COVID environment.”
The commissioner went onto further detail that the conference office considered Jackson, Memphis, Tennessee, and Birmingham, Alabama — home of SWAC headquarters — to host the game.
Jackson, he said, was eventually chosen because it would have been easier for the league to control the mechanisms by which to successfully orchestrate the game and the city was open to hosting it.
To make up for the financial losses the schools would sustain by traveling, the league will cover the expenses for both schools and each member institution will split revenue accumulated from the game, McClelland said.
In addition, bands of each school will be allowed to travel to the game, which McClelland called “promising.” Marching bands were unable to appear at road games during the regular season because of COVID-19 safety concerns.
“Every decision that we make is a collaborative decision,” he said. “Membership always has an opportunity to chime in. And our job is to facilitate that conversation and do what’s best for the membership as a whole.”