Yearly crowds have dwindled for SU-Grambling game
BY MIKE McCALL
and SCOTT RABALAIS
August 01, 2012
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The last few Bayou Classics have seen records for lowest attendance and highest margin of defeat for Southern, and this summer, the game lost its sponsor of more than a decade when State Farm announced it would pull out in 2013.
Any way you slice it, the game isn’t what it used to be. But if the first step toward fixing a problem is recognizing there is one, things are on the mend.
Grambling coach Doug Williams, who played in and won the first Bayou Classic in front of 76,753 at Tulane Stadium, said he’d be lying if he said he didn’t worry about the game’s future.
“We cannot afford to lose probably one of the greatest rivalries in New Orleans of all time,” Williams said. “The most important thing is the fans, the alumni, everybody in the state of Louisiana has to rally around this and try to keep the Bayou Classic what it is.”
Williams said that could mean moving the game to be played on school campuses, or shuffling up the committees that oversee the game and weekend. But he declined to give specific suggestions.
“I would like to, but I think being a football coach, I better stay in my place,” he said.
Southwestern Athletic Conference Commissioner Duer Sharp watched as Alcorn State pulled out of the Capital City Classic this month, reclaiming its right to host Jackson State rather than play in Jackson, Miss., each year.
Sharp said he’d offer assistance to Southern and Grambling in any way he can, but he’d like to see the Bayou Classic stay in the Superdome.
“I think to go away from the Bayou Classic, it would really take away from it,” Sharp said. “I would like to see it stay in New Orleans and stay as the game it has always been. I think it takes hard work, though. Once the numbers start going down, you have to work harder to get those numbers back up.”
Brave new world
By his rough estimate, Alcorn State coach Jay Hopson has been asked about becoming the first white head football coach in SWAC history “about 8,000 times.”
But to him, it’s all about coaching football.
“At the end of the day, you have a job to do to get this football team to where we want to be,” Hopson said.
Coming off a 2-8 season that resulted in the dismissal of Clinton native (and former Grambling coach) Melvin Spears, Hopson is still trying to figure out what kind of team he’s got after arriving in Lorman, Miss., in May.
“We’ll see. Aug. 2 will be my first practice,” Hopson said. “Come ask me about Aug. 15. I’m looking forward to seeing these guys compete.
“The big thing with the kids is, they’re working hard and have a great attitude. That’s all you can ask. That’s the first part of the equation.”
Two SWAC West coaches from Baton Rouge find themselves on opposite ends of the division’s predicted order of finish.
Prairie View coach and former Southern player Heishma Northern was picked to finish second, while Texas Southern coach Darrell Asberry was slotted last. The coaches have remained close friends.
When Asberry was hired in January, Northern attended the introductory press conference and has been an adviser to his old friend as he begins his stint at TSU.
But that doesn’t mean things have always been cordial.
On Monday, Asberry recalled when the two played each other in college, on a rainy day in Baton Rouge in 1994. He was Jackson State’s quarterback, and Northern played defensive back for the Jaguars.
“I was running out of bounds, and he pushed my face in the mud and told me, ‘It’s going to be like this all night long,’ ” Asberry said. “But Heishma and I are really good friends. He’s actually one of my best friends and has been a great help for me making this transition.”
For his part, Northern wants to trade places with Asberry in the preseason rankings.
“I wish it was fifth so I could post it in the locker room,” he said.
LeBeau on the loose
Jackson State senior defensive end Joseph LeBeaumay have taken some opponents by surprise last season after transferring in from Arkansas Baptist Community College, but there’s little chance the former John Ehret player will be sneaking up on anyone in 2012.
LeBeau had 75 tackles, including a school record-tying 16 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss last season, helping him earn preseason SWAC Defensive Player of the Year honors Monday.
“I’ve erased that because sometimes you tend to get a big head,” LeBeau said of his dominant junior season. “I figure I have to work way harder than I did last season to exceed that.”
LeBeau (6-foot-1, 245 pounds) said he expects teams will be scheming with the expressed purpose of neutralizing him this fall.
“I expect people will double team me more, but I worked hard this offseason to prepare for that,” LeBeau said. “It’ll balance out.”
New title sponsor
On Wednesday, the conference announced that Toyota will become its new title sponsor for both football and basketball.
The automaker also announced a few prize winners through its Green Campus Contest, awarding Jackson State student Tamika Smith with a 2013 Toyota Prius, donating a $1,000 scholarship and $4,000 toward a greenhouse to JSU. They will also fund tree parks at Jackson State and runner-up Alabama A&M.
Morgan on Valley
Houma native and third-year Mississippi Valley State coachKarl Morganmay have gone just 1-20 in his first two seasons, but he is optimistic that his Delta Devils are on the road to progress.
“There are phases you go through,” Morgan said. “You lose big; you lose close; you win close; you win big. Last year we lost close — four games by seven points or less. We’re at that stage now where we can get some confidence and get over the hump.”
Getting better production from the offense would be Valley’s first priority. The Devils managed a meager 14.7 points per game last season.
Hornets’ new hive
Alabama State is expected to move into its new $62 million on-campus stadium in time for the Hornets’ regular-season finale Thanksgiving day against in-state rival Tuskegee, sports information director Duane Lewis said.
The stadium — which, for now, is simply referred to as the New Hornets Stadium — will have about 26,500 seats, including club and suite levels.
Alabama State will play the rest of its home games in the Cramton Bowl, a 90-year-old municipal facility which has long been the Hornets’ home.
Southern coach Stump Mitchell is still holding out hope that he can get artificial turf installed at A.W. Mumford Stadium. Funds are far short of the expected $750,000 price tag, but Mitchell said he donated $10,000 toward it personally. ... Former Alcorn State quarterback Fred McNair, brother of late Alcorn QB Steve McNair, has returned to their alma mater as the Braves’ offensive coordinator. ... Former Southern assistant Fred Kaiss enters his second season as offensive coordinator at Alabama State. … The SWAC Championship Game will be Dec. 8 on ESPNU.