Birmingham City Council

Two Classics? Birmingham Debates Whether to Bring Morehouse-Tuskegee Game to the City

Crowds gather for the annual Magic City Classic at Birmingham’s Legion Field. (Source: Andre Natta, Flickr)

The Birmingham City Council has delayed a proposal to bring a new football classic to Legion Field this October. Mayor Randall Woodfin’s proposal, which appeared before the council Tuesday, would make Legion Field the site of an annual football game between Morehouse and Tuskegee universities, two historically black colleges and universities.

The proposed ordinance would set the next two Morehouse-Tuskegee games at Legion Field, with the option to renew the contract for three additional years. The city, in return, would allocate up to $500,000 toward putting on the event, including $50,000 to each college. Each college also will get 10% of ticket sales, and the city’s general fund would receive the remaining 80% of the revenue generated by ticket sales, Woodfin said.

The event would bring an estimated 150,000 people to Legion Field, Woodfin said — 75,000 inside the stadium and 75,000 tailgating outside.

The proposed contract would also include a “COVID clause,” said Faye Oates, the city’s commissioner of sports and entertainment, which would prevent the game from occurring if the coronavirus is still deemed to be a public health threat in October. “We’re not obligated to host these institutions, to pay the fees that are associated with this game, if in fact the NCAA comes down and says it’s too dangerous to play,” Oates said.

This year marks the 85th anniversary of the Tuskegee-Morehouse Classic; for the past 84 years, the game has been played at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium in Columbus, Georgia. Woodfin said the proposed move was a result of the city’s increased focus on sports and entertainment. “The whole idea that both institutions are willing to move to this city says that we’re doing something great,” he said. Woodfin graduated from Morehouse in 2003.

But Council President William Parker told Woodfin that there were still questions from the council about the proposal. “I love sports and I love college football and this is right down my alley,” he said, “but I also think there’s some unreadiness here.”

District 3 Councilor Valerie Abbott said she objected to “the timing of this,” particularly with regard to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the financial strain it is projected to place on the city. “If this game was going to be played next October instead of five months from now, I’d probably be OK,” she said.

Woodfin asked councilors to vote the item “up or down” on Tuesday, but instead they opted to send the item to an as-yet unscheduled committee of the whole meeting, with the item reappearing before the council May 26. Councilors Wardine Alexander, Crystal Smitherman and John Hilliard voted against the delay but were outnumbered by the rest of the council, except District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt, who was absent.

Woodfin, frustrated, asked the council if this decision meant that the council would not entertain any economic development proposals during the COVID-19 pandemic; Parker assured him the deferral would merely allow the council to “understand” the details of the proposal.