Bethune-Cookman athletic director Reggie Theus had a message for Deion Sanders nearly a week after the Jackson State head coach publicly questioned the motivation behind his team playing the Wildcats at an NFL stadium this fall instead of an HBCU facility.
“Thank you Deion for the national publicity, that’s great,” Theus told HBCU Sports on Wednesday in response to Sanders criticizing the Oct. 15 game between the schools being moved from Dayton Beach to TIAA Bank Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars. “I think he’s brilliant. I mean, he brought national attention to a game that probably wouldn’t have gotten national attention.”
It all goes back to SWAC football media day when Sanders expressed disappointment that B-CU announced in June to shift what would have been their home game to a neutral site.
“I don’t know why we are doing that,” he said last Thursday. “I don’t think it makes sense. That game upsets me. Bethune-Cookman, what is their fan base? What do they average per game? Why are we playing in a stadium of that magnitude?”
The game will be held at a bigger venue — from the refurbished, 10,000-seat Daytona Stadium — to the NFL venue that seats more than 67,000.
Theus explained that Bethune-Cookman has previously played 53 games in Jacksonville in its history. And since the school has a strong alumni base in the city, holding the contest there seemed appropriate.
“We’re super excited about the game and the opportunity for our kids to play in that NFL stadium,” said the former NBA veteran who now holds dual roles as an administrator and men’s basketball coach. “You know, we’re trying to reach as far as we can with our alumni.”
Another factor that went into the change in venue aside from attracting an expanded audience was the date of the game itself which coincided with a popular biker event. Biketoberfest, an event held annually in Daytona Beach on the same October weekend as the game, is expected to attract 100,000 motorcycle enthusiasts.
Theus joked that he “did Deion a favor” by moving the game to Jacksonville away from that gathering.
“It just sort of happened that way,” he said about why the Jackson State game was targeted. “In most situations, when we were in the MEAC, I don’t think they (B-CU) would hold games on that weekend in Daytona. They probably would have been on the road.”
A check of the Bethune-Cookman football schedule dating back to 2012 (aside from the COVID-19-impacted 2020 season) indicated that only three times did the team not play a home game in Daytona Beach during the weekend of the local motorcycle event.
BC-U, in October 2012, last hosted Norfolk State in the then-Biker Classic.
Now in the SWAC, there is less schedule flexibility to move around home games despite the program having some autonomy to do so on this occasion working with Jacksonville city officials and the Jaguars, said Theus.
“We inherited this schedule. You play where you fit in,” he said. “So it happened to be that weekend and it happened to be that (Jackson State) game.”
The move also presents an opportunity for the program to earn revenue playing in Jacksonville while not being obligated to invest any of its own reserves hosting in Daytona Beach.
“That’s another great reason for taking the game — it cost us nothing,” said Theus. “It costs us money (to play at Daytona Stadium) because we don’t own our facilities. It costs us money to have games in Daytona. This is a game where we have a chance to make some money. We have a chance to build our relationships with our alumni and really branch out.”
B-CU did not disclose the financial terms of the game in Jacksonville or how much the school is currently investing to play home contests in Daytona Beach.
In its first-ever meeting against Jackson State as a SWAC conference opponent in 2021, the Wildcats lost 42-12 in Jackson. Theus is hoping B-CU can pull off the upset this time around in front of a larger crowd.
“It’s a super opportunity to watch two really good programs go at it in an NFL stadium,” he said.