Defending MEAC and HBCU national champion North Carolina Central University hosting Winston-Salem State, on paper, is a typical early-season FCS vs. D2 matchup. But a closer look reveals it is not only a historic rivalry — it’s a vital game for both teams financially.
The season will start off at home with a game against WSSU on Sept. 2. The two schools were long-time rivals in the CIAA before both schools attempted to move to Division I. NCCU, of course, completed its division while Winston-Salem State eventually had to abandon its Division I hopes and return to the CIAA. The matchup went underground for a decade before the two teams met on the field again for a surprisingly competitive 20-13 win for NCCU in Durham to break the series tie between the two programs. NCCU currently leads the series 24-22 after last season’s 41-0 win.
“The rivalry and matchup with Winston-Salem makes good sense because they’re a strong Division II team,” NC Central Director of Athletics Dr. Skip Perkins told HBCU Gameday in 2022. “Obviously the coach over there is an Eagle, and we have a lot of synergy and I think we always can draw a pretty good crowd playing them. So we’re not just going to play just any Division II school, that one just makes a lot of sense.”
The 2021 matchup between the two programs brought a crowd of nearly 11,000 — a crowd larger than that season’s homecoming game against Norfolk State as well as conference matchups against South Carolina State and Delaware State that year.
The 2022 WSSU-NCCU game drew just under 3,800 fans as torrential rains put a literal damper on the day. But NCCU officials are clearly planning for a large crowd and financial win as well as on the field.
North Carolina Central University has compensated Winston-Salem State with $60,000 per year including money and tickets to sell in recent matchups. Tickets for this contest are all builed as “premium” (outside of lawn tickets) and costs twice as much as in-advance tickets for home games against Campbell, South Carolian State and Delaware State. The $40 ticket price is just $5 below the homecoming matchup with Norfolk State. The lawn tickets are exactly the same.
WSSU AD Etienne Thomas, a North Carolina Central University alumnus herself, shared last year that the resources brought from the game helped the entire athletics department.
“Those resources are shared intentionally between our department and between football,” Thomas said. “Because its important that those student-athletes and coaches that go out and work to make sure we have those opportunities — visibility for the institution, visibility for the department, but opportunities for the student-athletes — that also that revenue comes back in and we’re able to put it back in to recruiting, we’re able to put it into opportunities for the team.”