ESPN Events Reaches New Agreement with Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference to Continue Cricket MEAC/SWAC Challenge Kickoff and Cricket Celebration Bowl

  • First Take to be On-site in Atlanta for Kickoff Event to Celebrate 2021 College Football Season
  • North Carolina Central vs. Alcorn State to kick off the 2021-22 college football season Saturday, Aug. 28 at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta in primetime on ESPN


ESPN Events has signed a new, six-year agreement with the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) that extends both the Cricket MEAC/SWAC Challenge Kickoff and the Cricket Celebration Bowl, solidifying its continued support of the tradition, legacy and values of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

“We are thrilled to continue our relationship with these two incredible conferences,” said Clint Overby, vice president of ESPN Events. “The Cricket MEAC/SWAC Challenge Kickoff and Cricket Celebration Bowl have been mainstays on our Events roster, and we’ve seen tremendous growth for these storied games. We look forward to their continued success, and celebrating HBCU football for years to come.”

The Cricket MEAC/SWAC Challenge Kickoff began in 2005 and is now annually scheduled during ESPN’s Week 0 college football programming. This year’s matchup on Saturday, Aug. 28, at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta will feature North Carolina Central vs Alcorn State in primetime on ESPN. Future matchups include Alabama State vs. Howard (2022), South Carolina State vs. Jackson State (2023), and Florida A&M vs. Norfolk State (2024).

“This new deal reaffirms ESPN’s commitment to supporting HBCU college football in a real and meaningful way,” said John T. Grant, executive director of the Kickoff and Celebration Bowl. “Positioning the Cricket MEAC/SWAC Challenge Kickoff to week 0 brings national focus to Atlanta for the opening weekend of the college football season, as well as the start of Bowl Season with the Cricket Celebration Bowl. We’re looking forward to starting and ending the season with high energy and excitement around these two games.”

The Cricket Celebration Bowl, in its seventh year, will be played Saturday, Dec. 18, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The postseason bowl game will feature conference champions from the MEAC and SWAC.

Commissioner Quotes

Dr. Dennis Thomas, MEAC Commissioner
“We are elated to extend our agreement with the Cricket MEAC/SWAC Challenge Kickoff and the Cricket Celebration Bowl. These are events which showcase the rich tradition of football and the pageantry that surrounds the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC).

Also, these nationally televised games are tremendous opportunities for recruiting talented students to our institutions. ESPN Events renewing its investment shows ESPN’s commitment to the MEAC and the SWAC on a national scale and platform.  The national publicity enhances our brand and exposure and showcases our institutions, student-athletes and coaches to the world.”

Dr. Charles McClelland, SWAC Commissioner
“The Southwestern Athletic Conference is extremely excited to extend our agreement with ESPN Events for the Cricket MEAC/SWAC Challenge Kickoff and the Cricket Celebration Bowl. This relationship provides an extremely unique opportunity for us to showcase our membership and the outstanding student-athletes and programs from within our conference. ESPN Events has been a valued teammate over the course of this sponsorship agreement and we look forward to continuing to bring our exciting brand of football into the homes of millions in the coming months and years.”

ESPN’s First Take Live from Center Parc Stadium on Aug. 27 for First Roadshow of 2021
On Friday, Aug. 27, ESPN’s signature morning debate show First Take – featuring Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman and host Molly Qerim Rose – will be live from Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta preparing fans for that Saturday’s matchup, which is part of ESPN’s signature season kickoff with games across Weeks 0 and 1. The trio will also welcome a full lineup of special guests as they celebrate their first roadshow of the year. More information regarding fan attendance will be announced this summer.

First Take’s MEAC/SWAC Challenge Kick-Off roadshow from Atlanta will be the first of many special on-site telecasts that spotlight and celebrate HBCUs throughout the 2021-22 school year. Details and full schedule will also be announced this summer.

ESPN Events and Cricket Wireless signed a three-year title sponsorship agreement in December 2020. Both events return following a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) celebrated its 50th year of intercollegiate competition with the 2020-21 academic school year. Located in Norfolk, Va., the MEAC is made up of 11 outstanding historically black institutions across the Atlantic coastline: Bethune-Cookman University, Coppin State University, Delaware State University, Florida A&M University, Howard University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Morgan State University, Norfolk State University, North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina Central University and South Carolina State University.

Southwestern Athletic Conference
The Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) is considered one of the premier HBCU conferences in the country and currently ranks among the elite in the nation in terms of HBCU alumni playing with professional sports teams. Current championship competition offered by the league includes competition for men in Baseball, Basketball, Cross Country, Football, Golf, Indoor Track and Field, Outdoor Track and Field and Tennis. Women’s competition is offered in the sports of Basketball, Bowling, Cross Country, Golf, Indoor Track and Field, Outdoor Track and Field, Soccer, Softball, Tennis and Volleyball.

ESPN Events 
ESPN Events, a division of ESPN, owns and operates a portfolio of 34 collegiate sporting events nationwide. The roster includes five early-season college football games, 17 college bowl games, 11 college basketball events and a college softball event, which accounts for approximately 400 hours of live programming, reaches nearly 64 million viewers and attracts over 800,000 attendees each year. With satellite offices in more than 10 markets across the country, ESPN Events builds relationships with conferences, schools and local communities, as well as providing unique experiences for teams and fans.

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