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Longest Running HBCU Bowl Cancelled

The longest running bowl tournament in the history of Black colleges was abruptly cancelled this year, largely due to budgetary reasons and administrative differences between the two conferences that sponsor the game.

Founded in 1997 and the only NCAA-sanctioned bowl game for HBCU’s in Division II football, the Pioneer Bowl has been a national showcase for student-athletes. This year’s game was scheduled for Dec. 6, but late last month the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) and the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) announced the Pioneer Bowl would not take place this year.

Efforts are underway to resume in 2009, according to a statement released on Oct. 31.

“The SIAC Council of Presidents and Athletic Directors’ Committee in conjunction with CIAA Board of Directors have decided to focus their efforts toward the future and suspend the game for 2008,” according to the press release.

“There were a number of issues,” said Harry “Trae” Stinson III, director of communications and marketing for the SIAC, noting things had occurred between the two conferences “administrative-wise.” “We just couldn’t get the attention and put the work into putting on a successful event this year. Budget was a factor. We wanted to make sure we gave a proper send-off for our seniors and make sure the event was quality. It was difficult to bring together all the facets. Instead of putting something together that wasn’t going to work to our advantage, we decided to focus on next year.”

The CIAA’s director of public relations, Shera L. White, offered the following comment to Diverse via e-mail: “Thank you for your interest in covering the Pioneer Bowl; however, the CIAA has no other comment than what is expressed in the release.”

In the press release, CIAA commissioner Leon Kerry said, “Obviously, the CIAA is disappointed that there will be no Pioneer Bowl this year. However, we look forward to working closely with the SIAC over the next year to plan the finest Pioneer Bowl in 2009.”

Over the past decade, the Pioneer Bowl has provided an additional post-season opportunity in Division II football, for which there is only one bowl game.

“The Pioneer Bowl gave these student-athletes an opportunity to perform on a national stage,” said Stinson. “Being one of only two bowls in Division II made it special. It made the game stand out. It put the players on a different level. Not playing it certainly hurts them this year, not having that additional national game to perform in. But we are planning to bring it back. It was just suspended for this year.”

No school has made more Pioneer Bowl appearances than Tuskegee, playing eight times in 10 bowls (there was no game in 2002) and winning six times, including a 58-51 victory over Virginia Union last year. The wins helped foster enthusiasm around the school’s football program.

“Football is a big part of the community, wherever schools are,” said Stinson. “Having a great football program invokes the entire community.” He also noted that having this bowl enabled young student-athletes to see there are national opportunities in college football even if Division IA institutions don’t recruit them.

Decisive plans have not yet been set out as to how the Pioneer Bowl will be revived, but discussions are underway. As with all Division II sports, it will involve a lot of grassroots effort.

“The main thing is finding and identifying different resources, locally and in the communities,” Stinson said. “That’s the biggest key. Finding ways to create your own awareness that will allow you to go out into the region and nationally to get that acclaim you desire, which will bring new resources and funding. Being innovative and using a little intuition to promote your product.”

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