Will Talladega College bring back football? Feasibility study to be completed by January

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The 1920 Talladega College Football team. (Courtesy Talladega College)

TALLADEGA, Ala. (WIAT) — At the start of 2021, Talladega College may have a better idea of whether or not to bring back football after its team was disbanded 80 years ago.

In May, one of Alabama’s oldest historically Black colleges announced that it would conduct a feasibility study to determine whether or not to revive its football program. This week, Talladega College director of public relations Paisley Boston confirmed that the study would likely be completed by January, echoing President Lisa Long’s recent comments to Alabama Newscenter.

At one point, Talladega College had one of the best football teams among the country’s historically Black colleges and universities. According to Edwin Bancroft Henderson’s 1939 book, “The Negro in Sports,” the school first started its team in 1894, the same time other colleges like Howard, Tuskegee, and Atlanta University started them.

“Great teams and spectacular players were developed at Tuskegee, Morehouse, Fisk, Atlanta, Meharry, Talladega, Knoxville, West Virginia State and Wilberforce,” Henderson wrote.

While rivalries like Lincoln-Howard and Shaw-Union were typically in the national spotlight, Talladega College drew considerable crowds, especially against Tuskegee. In November 1921, over 3,000 people went to Rickwood Field to watch Talladega beat Tuskegee 38-7.

“Officials and regular fans declared the game the best played on the field this season, white or colored,” a reporter wrote in The New York Age.

In 1920 and 1921, the Pittsburgh Courier selected the Talladega College as being the best Black college football team in the country. Both teams were led by Jubie Bragg, who went on to become the first head football coach at Florida A&M University.

However, World War II ultimately brought on the demise of Talladega College’s team. In “Football at Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Texas,” wrote that Robert Christopher Fink wrote that the war, draft, and economic uncertainties brought many concerns that caused schools to put shelve their programs. Talladega College’s last football season was in 1941.

“In the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic conference, four of fifteen schools canceled their teams,” Fisk wrote. “LeMoyne, Fisk, Talladega, and Fort Valley State felt the demands of the war on manpower and educational services made football impractical.”

Al-Tony Gilmore, historian emeritus for the National Education Association who has written extensively on HBCU athletics and is working with the National Museum of African American History and Culture to make an HBCU sports exhibit, said that in their heyday, teams like Talladega College were a source of great pride for the Black community.

“It created an alternative to white America’s celebration of sport,” said Gilmore, whose grandmother attended Talladega College.

While officials at the institution have not indicated what the study has concluded, Gilmore said there are many factors in starting a team, from finding a conference to join, as well as the money to put the program together.

“It costs just as much for Talladega to travel and play Miles College or Stillman as it costs Auburn to play Alabama,” he said.

Still, some are optimistic that bringing football back to Talladega College would be a good thing.

“The possibility of adding football would only enhance our athletic program and bring new opportunities to the campus, the community, and the overall collegiate experience for our students,” Athletic Director Kevin Herod said in a statement last May.

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