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FAMU departs Orange Blossom Classic, for now

The Orange Blossom Classic will receive a shakeup with no FAMU in 2024, but the game’s future looks promising.

From the 1930s to the 1970s, the Orange Blossom Classic (OBC) featuring FAMU was often the determining game in the black college national championship.  It has factored into the last two HBCU national championships and 2023 could prove to do the same.

In 2021 and 2022 Jackson State won the Denny’s Orange Blossom Classic.  They would go on to win the SWAC East crown and ultimately the SWAC Championship.  The Tigers defeated FAMU in both of those years and it would be the only conference losses between either of the schools in those two years.  This year the Rattlers won the OBC and seems positioned to make a run at the SWAC eastern division championship.

The pomp and circumstance of a game in Miami Gardens in Hard Rock Stadium is one that coaches in all of college football desire.  The amazing weather, the glare of Miami and the opportunity to play in a professional football stadium on national television is hard to turn down for most college teams.  For FCS teams, the opportunity to walk away with almost half a million dollars is not a bad consolation.

Viewership ranked Top 25 for the Labor Day Weekend

The game drew 438,000 viewers on ESPN.  That ranks in the Top 25 of the weekend football ratings, even eclipsing some Power Five conference games.  While that viewership is down from the previous two years, the Deion Sanders effect translated to his new home in Colorado.  The Colorado vs TCU game was the second most viewed game in the country with 7.26 million viewers.  In perspective, in the post-Sanders era of the OBC, this was a good showing.

The HBCU world is chock full of classics.  It is a tradition that allowed for black colleges to get exposure in markets that it did not have influence in when they began.  Cities, organizations and promoters have had the opportunity to drum up a rivalry and station them across the country.  The largest of these sustained rivalries are the Magic City Classic, Turkey Day Classic, Florida Classic, Bayou Classic and Circle City Classic.  Over time, these games in many senses have been more popular, well attended and profitable than home games. 

The payout of the OBC has boosted FAMU and JSU

HBCU athletic departments, who have all struggled with making budget, have to decide whether to bring games to their stadium or travel to a classic with guaranteed money and travel.  FAMU and Jackson State have enjoyed three highly-anticipated games, a great game atmosphere and a hefty financial windfall from participating in three consecutive Orange Blossom Classics.

FAMU, because of scheduling, will not be present in next year’s OBC.  FAMU VP/Director of Athletics Tiffani-Dawn Sykes in her efforts to maximize ticket values in Tallahassee has opted out of the game for 2024. Another reason for FAMU not playing in the 2024 OBC is that it will partake in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge next season.  That game is a week before the OBC.  As was experienced this year, it is a strain on the fanbase to travel to Atlanta and turn around and travel to Miami.  Jackson State fans, who over the past two seasons have accounted for 50-percent of the patrons, saw much-leaner numbers this year.  

 JSU fans packed out the MEAC/SWAC Challenge, for the opening game, but many simply were unable to make a turnaround trip to Miami.

Still, the OBC got a competitive game.  It had all the pomp and circumstance with the FAMU Marching “100” and JSU “Sonic Boom of the South.”  The bands had a “Battle of the Bands” on the campus of the University of Miami.  The tailgate zone was chock full of sponsors giving out free items, national entertainment and DJs and plenty of food. It was a particularly electric pregame atmosphere.

The OBC committee will have work diligently to secure its lineup for next year as its organizers plan to continue to be an excellent event for HBCUs to raise valuable scholarship dollars.  While FAMU is seemingly out of the classic for 2024, don’t rule out a return of the Rattlers in the near future.

FAMU departs Orange Blossom Classic, for now
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