Soul Bowl shift latest move in ASU’s overhaul

Published 11:41 pm Friday, July 6, 2012

Alcorn State’s football program has undergone an extreme makeover this offseason.

A flurry of moves that started with the dismissal of former coach Melvin Spears and continued with his replacement Jay Hopson, hit its latest milestone this week with the announcement that the annual rivalry game against Jackson State will return to Lorman for the first time in almost 20 years.

It’s part of a process of reinventing Alcorn’s program and showcasing it to alumni and potential students and recruits, Hopson said.

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“It helps bring a quality home game for our season ticket holders, along with being able to show potential recruits the atmosphere they could play in,” Hopson said. “This was the only move we could make.”

All of the offseason moves have been an attempt to renew enthusiasm in a program that fans and alumni had become disenchanted with. Football attendance dropped off significantly by the end of the 2011 season as several groups voiced their displeasure with Spears and stayed away.

The team went 2-8, and the loss of revenue led Alcorn president Dr. M. Christopher Brown II to cut ties with Spears.

Hopson was hired on May 28, becoming the first white coach in the history of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, and Brown continued to seek ways to improve the school’s athletic budget. One way was to turn the “Soul Bowl” into a legitimate home game against its top in-state rival.

In a school release detailing the announcement Tuesday, Brown said having the game in Jackson each year — and the travel expenses that went with it — was costing Alcorn money. Last season, less than 25,000 fans attended the game in Jackson’s 60,000-seat Veterans Memorial Stadium. Alcorn’s Jack Spinks Stadium holds about 22,000.

Hosting the game in Lorman every other year will help Alcorn shore up its athletic coffers by keeping more of the gate and spending less on travel and other events.

More importantly, it will hopefully lure back alumni who donate to the university.

“It’s awesome to bring this rivalry game with Jackson State back home to our campus,” interim athletic director Dwayne White said. “It’s a great opportunity for fans to see our campus.”

White added that the move was good from a public relations standpoint. He hopes bringing the Soul Bowl home to Lorman will generate enthusiasm that leads fans to buy tickets to other games throughout the season.

“I think it gives our fan base a big boost to have this game back on our campus,” White said. “It shows that we are going in the right direction. Having been involved with football all my life, I know Coach Hopson is doing some great things with our football program.”