Hancock Whitney Stad ium
Photo | Courtesy of the University of South Alabama
Just more than a month before the game was to be played, yet in unsurprising news, officials with the LendingTree Bowl and the University of South Alabama announced last Friday the Mobile postseason bowl game will be played at Hancock Whitney Stadium, beginning with this season’s game, scheduled for Dec. 18.
It is a move that has been talked about since South Alabama opened its on-campus stadium, if not indeed while the stadium was being built — when will the LendingTree Bowl move its game to South Alabama? — and last week it became a reality.
The move comes in the wake of the Reese’s Senior Bowl moving from Ladd to South Alabama last year and more recently, on the heels of the Mobile County Public School System (MCPSS) pulling all its games from Ladd in the wake of a shooting during a high school game near the end of the regular season, an incident that has led to a lot of finger-pointing and assessing of blame by MCPSS officials and those who run Ladd-Peebles Sports and Entertainment Complex.
It is the latest exit from the more than 70-year-old stadium.
“It had nothing to do with that,” LendingTree Bowl President Jerry Silverstein said when asked if the recent incident at the stadium and MCPSS moving its high school games to other locations led to the bowl’s decision to move its game to South Alabama. “We looked at it as … one is a brand new stadium and one is 75 years old. Which one do you want to play in?”
Silverstein said the updated facilities and amenities available at Hancock Whitney Stadium made the decision to move the game a simple one.
“We think it’s a plus all the way around,” he said. “What it does for us is it gives us the opportunity to present to the community and our partners, and pretty much like the press release says, the technology they have there and the modernization of the facilities and the seating and entertainment arrangements and amenities, for the players and everyone else, whether it’s medical or the field and locker rooms, it’s a plus. We’re just happy to be able to offer that to our conferences that are coming in and to the fans and the out-of-town guests and we’re just happy to be able to show off Mobile.”
Ann Davis, chairman of the Ladd-Peebles Stadium Board of Directors, told Lagniappe she wasn’t taken aback by the announcement.
“I’m not shocked,’’ she told Lagniappe reporter Dale Liesch in a telephone interview the day of the announcement. “I’m not surprised. I did not plan on them coming back.”
She added the board and the stadium’s management team are working to bring new events to the stadium, but noted it was too early to make any announcements along those lines. The stadium is still scheduled to be the site of the Gulf Coast Challenge, a football game that annually matches Historically Black Colleges and Universities in a game, which also features several other events in association with the game.
South Alabama Athletics Director Dr. Joel Erdmann said the school is pleased to welcome the LendingTree Bowl to Hancock Whitney Stadium and the South Alabama campus.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for us to showcase the campus and the stadium as we’re doing with other events along with our own events and our own games,” Erdmann said. “We will have two sets of fan bases and universities who may or may not have been on our campus and it’s always good when we have a chance to do that.”
He said the university and LendingTree Bowl officials have talked in the past but those discussions gained steam in recent weeks.
“It’s been casual conversation but in the short term it picked up speed,” he said. “We have somewhat been down this road with the Senior Bowl, so we had some talking points and some points of consideration that were ready to be discussed, if you will. That made the timeframe to be more compressed than maybe traditionally it would be.”
While Silverstein noted the move is a plus for the game and its participants, Erdmann said it is also a plus for the university.
“We will have national broadcasting through ESPN, so we’ll have national exposure for the university and Hancock Whitney Stadium and our program,” Erdmann said. “We live in a world of recruiting, so the more sets of eyes that will be on the city of Mobile and our campus and Hancock Whitney Stadium, the better.”
The LendingTree Bowl will actually be the second game played at Hancock Whitney Stadium that weekend. The Alabama High School Athletic Association’s North-South All-Star Game is scheduled to be played there on Friday, Dec. 17, the night before the LendingTree Bowl game.
The LendingTree Bowl, which has had other sponsorship names in the past including the GMAC Bowl and the Dollar General Bowl, played its first 22 games at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. This year’s game, which features a team from the Sun Belt Conference against a team from the Mid-American Conference, will be played at 4:45 p.m. on Dec. 18. It will be televised by ESPN.
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