The Tuskegee University football helmet, left, and the Albany State University football helmet are displayed at Monday’s SIAC Media Day. The teams, who are predicted to meet in the SIAC championship game, will first play Sept. 13 in Phenix City, Ala., in the inaugural White Water Classic. (SIAC/Steven T. Lockhart)
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — College football is returning to Phenix City, Ala, for the first time in 25 years this September when Albany State and Tuskegee clash in the inaugural White Water Classic.
The Sept. 13 matchup, which was announced late last week and touted as an economic development tool for Phenix City, will feature the two teams predicated to win their respective divisions at Monday’s SIAC Media Day.
The classic will likely be a victory for Phenix City — which is expected to see a $400,000 economic benefit, according to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer — but Albany State coach Mike White said the change in venue also helps the Rams.
“Good for us,” he said. “It saves us about 30 minutes on the trip, and they don’t have so much of a home-field advantage.”
The game was originally scheduled as a home contest for Tuskegee, and the university will receive $100,000, dozens of hotel rooms and two meals from Phenix City to play the game in the newly renovated Garrett-Harrison Stadium, which has undergone $2.5 million in renovations.
Tuskegee now has just four home games on its schedule because of the change, and Tigers coach Willie Slater had mixed emotions about the news.
“Everybody wants to play at home. I’m told where to play and who to play, and we try to make it work,” Slater said. “But it doesn’t matter where we play. The field is the same size. Phenix City is close to us, so it’s still like a home game.”
It will be the first collegiate game played in Phenix City since the NCAA Division III national championship game was played between 1973-89. Tickets will be $20 and go on sale Aug. 1.
TITLE GAME MOVED: The SIAC held its Football Media Day in Montgomery for the first time, and the conference will be returning to the city in November for the SIAC championship game.
Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange and SIAC Commissioner Gregory Moore made the announcement Monday before a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Doubletree by Hilton in downtown Montgomery.
“The SIAC football championship game has grown significantly over the years, and Montgomery is a great fit for our postseason atmosphere,” Moore said.
The championship game had been held in Atlanta the last three seasons but will be played for the next three years at the historic Cramton Bowl, a 25,000-seat stadium that has hosted MLB spring training, the Turkey Day Classic, University of Alabama games and high school football contests in its 92-year history. In December, the Cramton Bowl, which recently installed synthetic turf, will host the Camellia Bowl featuring teams from the Sun Belt Conference and Mid-American Conference.
“The Cramton Bowl is a spectacular venue as it has held some legendary games in college football,” Moore said. “We want to thank the city of Montgomery, Mayor Todd Strange and the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Convention and Visitor Bureau for embracing and assisting our transition to such a historic venue.”
Fort Valley State coach Donald Pittman said he felt welcomed by Montgomery and its representatives on Monday.
“There’s just so much to do in Atlanta that we didn’t really get noticed there even though we have Clark and Morehouse there in Atlanta,” Pittman said. “I think we get a better response here in Montgomery, especially if (Alabama schools) Miles or Tuskegee can make it to the championship game.”
STABILITY ON OFFENSE: The Rams finished fourth in scoring and third in passing offense in the SIAC last season, but White believes 2014 will be even better for ASU’s Gold Rush offense.
Steve Smith is returning for his second season as head coach, and quarterback Frank Rivers, the preseason Offensive Player of the Year in the SIAC, will also be back to lead the Rams.
Rivers, who threw for more than 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns last season after transferring from Division I Grambling, will be joined by seven other returning starters on offense.
“You have eight starters coming back offensively and with our quarterback back, I do think we can be better (than last year),” White said. “I did not think last year we peaked like we should have going down the stretch. We didn’t run the offense like I thought we should have down the stretch.
“This year if we can stay injury free I think we can get off to a better start.”
The Rams open the season Sept. 6 at Valdosta State.