Two of the most highly anticipated SWAC conference games of the 2021 season will involve Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman.
While the Rattlers and the Wildcats have played against SWAC schools as members of the MEAC in classic and non-conference showdowns over the years, prior to the upcoming campaign, few could have imagined that a FAMU-Jackson State clash or Florida Classic contest would become staples of the league.
The shift now leaves the SWAC and both Florida HBCUs with much stronger brands and more exposure in what is now arguably the premier conference in the FCS.
With the additions of Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman, fans and programs can experience all that HBCU culture has to offer each week.
The bands. The tailgates. Oh, and the football, too.
“I think football is football,” said Florida A&M head coach Willie Simmons. “But, I think the thing they’ll (players) be excited about is the pageantry of going to different venues, seeing the tailgating, the bands. In the MEAC, because of the distance, “The Marching 100″ wasn’t able to travel with us to a lot of games and opposing teams were not able to bring their bands to Tallahassee.”
The SWAC’s footprint currently covers Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas.
“We’re making a power HBCU conference,” SWAC Commissioner Charles McClelland told the Tallahassee Democrat following the announcement that Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman would create a strong 12-team partnership.
Bethune-Cookman, which spent 41 years in the MEAC, is excited to be part of this new age in SWAC football.
“Change is good,” said Wildcats coach Terry Sims. “We’re no stranger to the SWAC and I don’t think we need to change who we are. We are going to bring our brand of football and see what happens.”
B-CU won’t be easing into its first journey through the SWAC, however. The Wildcats are scheduled to play defending champion Alabama A&M on Sept. 11. Then there are dates with Jackson State (Oct. 23), Alcorn State (Nov. 6), Grambling State (Nov. 13) before the Florida Classic (Nov. 20).
“You have to play and beat the best to be the best,” Sims said. “That is the only way that you have a true measuring stick of who you are and how good you really are.”
Florida A&M is thrown right into the fire a bit quicker, with a season opener against Deion Sanders and Jackson State in Miami on Sept. 5. Southern, Grambling, Alabama A&M, and 2021 spring West division champion Arkansas-Pine Bluff is also on the slate.
“Great, great history here in this conference,” said Simmons, who previously coached at Alcorn State and Prairie View before transitioning to Florida A&M. “I have five coaches on my staff who were in the SWAC. I think we all looked forward to getting back to this conference.”