Changing the Bayou Classic: A Proposal

We have a proposal for the annual Bayou Classic football game which we think will be better for the event, the teams and the city. Our suggestion is this: Have the game at the beginning of each football season rather than at the end.
Each Thanksgiving weekend the game matching Southern University and Grambling University is played in the Superdome. The media routinely uses all its clichés such as “all the record books are thrown out the window when these two teams play” and boosters talk about the economic significance of the event. There are, however, some inherent problems: One is that The Classic is not really a classic. Since it always matches the same two teams it is not of the same importance as a bowl game. Theoretically both teams can come to the game winless or with mismatched records and still be part of a “classic.” (Last year Grambling had an embarrassing 1- 11 regular season record including a forfeit. Southern won the “Classic” 40 to 17.)
Recently a member of the dome stadium commission suggested that the game should be changed so that other teams could be eligible. Since Grambling and Southern are the state’s only two historically black universities with football teams the subject becomes sensitive. Race, indeed, does add some tension to the discussion, but it should not. Sometimes rivalries shift. LSU stopped playing Tulane on an annual basis because the series had become so one-sided on the field and at the box office.
Grambling was once celebrated for all the pro football players it produced but that was from the bad old days when aspiring black players had few college options. Now the best are actively recruited by the other universities.
If the Bayou Classic was played as the season opener both teams would take the field undefeated with identical 0-0 records. Injuries will have not taken their tolls yet. The players could show their stuff. Most of all, the splendid marching bands from both schools could make their seasonal debut.
Played in November, the Classic is overshadowed for attention with the competition for major bowl games. The timing also creates injury risks should one of the teams be in line to play in their conference championship game a week later. (Not unlike the Saints having to be cautious about their starters in the final week of the season if they are heading for the playoffs.) In the first week legs are fresh and everyone can go full speed.
From an economic standpoint the game would probably do the city more good in late August/early September than in late November. Thanksgiving weekend has a high potential for attracting regional travelers staying three or four nights. The classic attracts many day-trippers and has more of a spring break atmosphere. Tourism is softer at the end of summer. The business is needed more then.
One other benefit to advancing the game is that it could help the state’s mental health. We’re serious! Many Louisianans suffer from Football Withdrawal. Each summer we have noticed an increase in people yearning for football season to begin. An early season match-up of two historic rivals would provide a tonic that is truly a classic.
This blog was updated from an editorial by Errol Laborde that originally appeared in New Orleans Magazine.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and online.

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