Williams: ‘Troy is our bread and butter’

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 2, 2001

Sports Writer

As the dawn of a new era for Troy State University football begins in 2001, one of the things that hasn’t changed is the difficulty of putting together an 11 game Division I-A football schedule.

The struggles of having to deal with the logistics of putting together enough home games and playing big name opponents on the road in order to make enough money for the TSU Athletic Department to thrive and survive has made scheduling a year round responsibility.

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In an effort to promote its move to the Division I level while playing a big time game within the boundaries in the State of Alabama

simultaneously, TSU is thinking about the possibility of playing one game per year at Montgomery’s historic Cramton Bowl.

While many people think of Montgomery as a city split between Alabama and Auburn, TSU has had a history with playing football games in the Capitol City. In 1968, TSU played NAIA member Texas A & I in its first ever national championship game won by the Trojans. Ten years later, TSU faced Southern Mississippi who is currently a perennial Top 25 program in the ever fast improving Conference USA. In addition, the Trojans have played arch rival Alabama State on a biannual basis from 1991-to-1999 in Montgomery.

Many people within the TSU football program believe if several things fall in the right place moving one home game per year to Montgomery in the future would lure in several Central Alabama based football fans to support the Trojans.

TSU Athletic Director Johnny Williams, who prefers to play

games on campus, said

there would be more serious interest in playing at Cramton Bowl if the City of Montgomery steps to the plate with a plan to

improve the

downtown facility in the future.

"We’ve expressed to the City of Montgomery if we want to play in Cramton Bowl improvements must be made because they don’t have the type of facility in place ," Williams said. "We’re in negotiations with some major universities such as Southern Mississippi, Marshall, TCU and Iowa State. In order for those teams to play us (at home), we must have a stadium with 25,000 to 30,000 people. We’re looking at getting major games contracted and we’ve got to have somewhere to play those games since we don’t have big enough facilities."

Currently, Cramton Bowl holds 24,500 which holds exactly 7,000 more seats than Richard M. Scrushy Field on the TSU main campus (17,500).

The preliminary stage of the plan took a severe blow 2 1/2 weeks ago when the Montgomery City Council voted down a major bond issue for projects in the Capitol City, including $1 million to improve the Cramton Bowl facilities during recent budget talks.

However, Williams said he’s still optimistic Montgomery will finally push the envelope when budget plans are made next January if it’s considered as a separate issue.

"It will be revisited next year," Williams said. "But they need to improve the facilities whether or not we play there. Montgomery has to be a premium spot for us because right now we don’t have the facilities to play such a big game as

Southern Mississippi or

Air Force."

One of the reasons why the City of Montgomery means so much to TSU athletics is due to its large alumni base and branch campus at TSU-Montgomery.

Faith Ward, who is TSU’s Director for Alumni Affairs, said playing one game a year at Cramton Bowl makes sense.

"There’s more TSU alumni in Montgomery County than in any other county in Alabama," Ward said. "I feel like that TSU alumni who are behind the move to Division I will support it. Everyone would like to see all of the home games played in Troy, but I feel like the alumni would support a game in Montgomery if the need is there."

Playing in Montgomery though could be more than just a matter of numbers and economics. Currently, there are only three home games set for the 2001 season with three dates yet to be filled.

With road trips such as Nebraska, Miami, Fla., Mississippi State and Maryland scheduled for this

year, opportunities to play Division I-A home games at Memorial Stadium is few and precious. Many die hard TSU fans would rather prefer to come to Troy in that it provides a traditional college football atmosphere than take a 50 mile trip to attend a game in a facility that needs

major renovation.

However, many people close to the TSU football program believe that it’s important to use Montgomery as a major market similar to what Birmingham meant to the University of Alabama during the 1960s and

1970s in terms of increasing fan appeal beyond the Troy area.

TSU head football coach Larry Blakeney said he would have no problem playing at least one game per year in Montgomery if several conditions were met.

"My personal feeling is there’s got to be improvements made in the press box and

the dressing rooms if we’re going to play at Cramton Bowl again," Blakeney said. "There’s not enough room for the locker room and the press box. We still want to play at least four games a year at home in Troy. A lot of things still have to go into the decision of playing in Montgomery. We’re trying to schedule I-A teams in Troy, Ala. for the next four-to-six years."

Blakeney said one thing that could help Troy’s home scheduling woes would be to get into a conference (i.e. Sun Belt) possibly by the 2002 football season so that TSU could afford to play at least one game per year in Montgomery.

"A conference affiliation would really help us," Blakeney said. "Right now I want us to play here, but if the landscape is such I’m for playing in Montgomery if the facilities can be updated. We have a tremendous amount of friends and alumni in that region. There’s plenty of fan base in Montgomery. It depends on how much interest they have in their alma mater making the move. All we want to do is be receptive to the TSU people going to Tuscaloosa, Auburn or Tallahassee in getting people to watch TSU play. I think it could be a success, but conference affiliation has to be a factor. I don’t want to do anything to alienate the people in Troy and Pike County."

Another option that could be explored if TSU signs a contract to host a big name team and nothing is done to improve the facilities at Cramton Bowl might be playing at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile. Williams said the 1997 season opener against Alcorn State in the Port City

was a success and that TSU would not rule out playing a game in Mobile sometimes in the nearer future since Ladd-Peebles has seen significant renovations over the past four years.

However, with Montgomery growing to a city of 250,000 people, Williams said it’s imperative to make the Capitol City an extension of TSU much like Birmingham became one for the University of Alabama 25-to-30 years ago.

"Montgomery has a quarter of a million people who live there," Williams said. "They are in our media market, plus we have a large alumni base. We are trying to bring more fans into our program in order to showcase our football team. I definitely think the City of Montgomery could get ownership into our program. We just want to play one game per year. If we get Georgia Tech to play us here, I’ve got to have a stadium to host such a team. If we’re going to grow in I-A, we’ve got to have a marquee game at home. I view Troy and Montgomery as our territory. We’re trying build a fan base from the Central Alabama region within 75 miles of Troy."

Williams said he isn’t concerned about the perception of Montgomery being known as an Alabama/Auburn city and feels that the support for a TSU football game in Montgomery will be there.

"I think the game will sell itself," Williams said. "If you’ve got a big marquee

name, it will draw people to that game whoever we play. Alabama and Auburn plays no factor in what we do."

TSU Sports Information Director Tom Strother said Montgomery and Troy will each benefit if improvements on Cramton Bowl are made within the next five years.

The facility up there is sub par compared to ours down here," Strother said. "I don’t know what the City of Montgomery is going to do, but there needs to be an upgrade. I know if they do something it will benefit TSU and the City of Montgomery. When you look at Cramton Bowl, there hasn’t been many changes. The press box has limited seating and there is no access to the elevator and no area for handicap reporters. The press box and phone line areas are limited. It’s tough because there’s not a lot

of space for us to operate. If Montgomery wants to host high school championships or the Blue-Gray Game, there needs to be drastic improvements."

While realizing the importance of the Montgomery market, Williams said the only goal in mind is to do what’s best for TSU football.

"Troy is our bread and butter," Williams said. "I’m working everyday to build an athletic program to help TSU and the City of Troy in order for it to grow."