HBCU Football Spectacles 2019: Hampton vs. Virginia Union
Former CIAA foes renew a rivalry 25 years in the making.
If you're from the Mid-Atlantic area of the US and you're an HBCU football fan, then you know that the landscape there is chock full of colorful and storied institutions and rivalries. The CIAA (Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) and the MEAC (Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) reign supreme in these parts, and they both have a rich and vibrant brand of sports culture. Hampton University's recent jump to the Big South Conference may have officially removed them from the MEAC as an athletic program, but they're still a huge part of the HBCU tradition that exists in the Virginia Corridor that's part of the footprint of both leagues. The long-standing 'Battle Of The Bay' rivalry of Hampton vs. Norfolk State has gotten most of the visibility over the years, but HU's conference move has put that on a bit of a hiatus. It's also allowed an older rivalry to be renewed. Virginia Union University is a small, private HBCU that's located in the state capital of Richmond, Virginia. The school is part of the CIAA and already has a nationally-recognized championship pedigree when it comes to hoops (they've got more National Championships at the NCAA Division II level than any other HBCU, at ANY level), but the match-ups on the gridiron with the then Hampton Institute back in the golden age of CIAA football were must-see attractions for the HBCU football head.
Fast forward to the 2019 football season, and we see this classic match up between old CIAA foes renewed. The Hampton Pirates' inaugural football voyage through Big South waters isn't expected to be an eventful one, but there was a great deal of excitement and buzz around the program this year with the transfer of former five star QB prospect Deandre Francois to HU from traditional NCAA FBS (Football Bowl Sub-Division) football powerhouse Florida State. Virginia Union's names may not have been as recognizable, but the expectations for the Division II squad this year were pretty high, with a ranking in Lindy's DII Top-25 pre-season poll. In a renewal of gridiron hostility 25 years in the making, VUU's balanced and punishing rush offense powered the Panthers to a surprising but resounding 36 to 17 victory over an NCAA FCS (Football Championship Sub-Division) opponent that hadn't lost to a Division II or lower squad since 1995. For Virginia Union, it was a wake up call for the rest of their CIAA and Division II foes that the pre-season visibility and recognition wasn't unwarranted. With Bowie State losing legendary quarterback Amir Hall, the door is open in the CIAA Northern Division for a new king. In the meantime, Hampton will need to go back to the drawing board to integrate the talent that they have for a Big South conference schedule that doesn't look to be any more forgiving than the opponent faced this past weekend. Besides the game on the field, the game day atmosphere at Hampton was typical of the festive and down-home CIAA shindigs that I remembered while frequenting games as a teenager. If you want a living poster of what it's like to tailgate, chill, and experience the typical smorgasbord of sensations that's the typical HBCU gameday experience, games like this are it. The HBCU Football experience in general is one of the more unique and enjoyable times to be had ANYWHERE in collegiate athletics.
Natives to the Mid-Atlantic area hope to see the return of Norfolk State vs. HU in short order, but Virginia Union renewing pleasantries with Hampton will go a long way to keeping the historical and cultural footprint of these two programs intact for future HBCU football fans to enjoy.
The folks over at HBCU Gameday are at the forefront of covering the HBCU scene, and the good times that come with it. Check out their take on the renewal of this old school CIAA throw down!