Tuesday, October 2, 2007

WSSU prepares for trip to Indianapolis

School slated to receive around $250,000 for its game with Florida A&M


It was an offer that Chico Caldwell couldn’t refuse.

When Circle City Classic representatives approached Caldwell about moving Winston-Salem State’s game with Florida A&M from Bowman Gray Stadium to the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Caldwell didn’t hesitate.

“It really was a no-brainer because this is one of the best black-college classics in the country,” said Caldwell, who is WSSU’s athletics director. “This was too good to pass up.”

The Rams will take a chartered flight to the Midwest on Thursday and could play in front of 50,000 fans Saturday.

Of course, the $250,000 payoff to WSSU for playing in the game helped Caldwell make his decision. Caldwell said that around $25,000 of that will be used for expenses, including flying the team, cheerleaders and band to Indianapolis.

“I’ve always said that this is a partnership between the university academically and athletically. When you think about it this is great exposure for the university, and you really can’t buy that much exposure,” Caldwell said.

WSSU’s name will be introduced to folks who may have never heard of the university during the events that accompany the game. There are expected to be some 150,000 people who will arrive on the weekend for the festivities.

Kelly Rowland, a popular rhythm and blues singer, will be the grand marshal of a pre-game parade and will also perform at halftime. There will also be a college fair, a cheerleading clinic, a golf tournament and several parties in the Indianapolis area.

John Dedman, the director of communications for Indiana Sports Corporation, said that one reason that the Circle City Classic has been so successful is its wide range of activities.

“I’m not sure how the other classics operate, but we treat this as a community celebration that’s more than just football,” Dedman said.

The Classic promotes itself as “a weekend that celebrates African American cultural excellence and educational achievement while showcasing the tradition and quality of America’s historically black colleges and universities.”

This will be the last year that the game will be played at the RCA Dome. Next year it will be played in a new stadium being built for the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL.

This will be the 24th Circle City Classic. Last year, Hampton beat Central State of Ohio 42-12. Dedman said that over the past seven years the game has averaged around 48,000 fans. Dedman didn’t have exact ticket-sales numbers for this year’s game, but other officials said they are expecting 40,000 to 50,000.

WSSU has a good reputation for fans who like to travel. It was given 2,500 tickets to the game to sell and more than 2,000 have been sold, according to Caldwell.

“Winston-Salem State and their officials have been enthusiastic about this from the start, and they have done a great job of getting the word out there,” Dedman said. “They already have filled up one hotel with the block of rooms we set aside, and we are working on getting them some more rooms in another hotel.”

Coach Kermit Blount of the Rams, whose team is forced to play six road games in a row because of the Circle City Classic, looks at Saturday’s game as a recruiting tool. He also said that it’s a reward to his team.

“When you weigh the options of having to play at home, which isn’t a bad thing, and taking the team on the road to play in the same building where the Super Bowl champions play, it’s a great thing for us,” Blount said. “It’s the experience for us playing in a big arena, in a big atmosphere and the next time we have to play in something that big we’ll be ready for it.”

Another bonus for WSSU will be the broadcast of the game live on the NFL Network. The Circle City Classic has a two-year contract with the NFL Network to broadcast the game.

When the Rams’ schedule came out there was grumbling by some WSSU alumni about taking away a home game.

“I think those fans realize that to have this kind of exposure and get to play in the RCA Dome, you can’t buy that kind of opportunity,” Caldwell said.

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