George Williams had a brilliant thought come to him while talking with his wife one day.
Williams, the athletic director at Saint Augustine’s, always wondered aloud to his wife Olivia, a Shaw graduate, why the Bears had to travel to Durham to play their home football games. Since football returned to Shaw in 2003, the Bears have never had a stadium to call home. They played their home games at various high schools across Raleigh before renting out Durham County Stadium starting in 2007.
Last week, Shaw announced it will play its home games on the campus of its biggest rival: Saint Augustine’s, sharing the George Williams Sports Complex. The university opened the 2,500-seat stadium in 2011 after reinstating football in 2002 and, like Shaw, played all over the city before getting its own field.
Williams said it didn’t make sense to him to have a facility right in Southeast Raleigh that both teams couldn’t share. Sharing stadiums isn’t a foreign concept at any level, even among rivals — the New York Jets and New York Giants have done it for years in the NFL.
So Williams reached out to Shaw Alumni president Joe Bell, and they got the presidents at both schools to sit down for talks that began earlier this year.
The George Williams Athletic Complex is on the campus of SAU, located exactly 1.8 miles away from Shaw. The stadium has a huge grandstand on the home side, and a fair amount of bleachers on the visitor side, with a track surrounding the football field where Williams — also the longtime Falcons’ track coach — trains his athletes. The stadium’s namesake opened up the dialogue about sharing with Shaw. Or reopened.
“In the past, it was the presidents we had who didn’t want to agree,” Williams said. “As the presidents change, the relationships and the communications change.”
Both schools came under new leadership recently. Gaddis Faulcon took over as interim president at St. Augustine’s, replacing Everett Ward in March. In September of 2018, Paulette Dillard was named Shaw’s 18th president, replacing Tashni Dubroy, who left the previous year to take a job at Howard University.
Alfonza Carter, the athletic director at Shaw, said for many years the alumni wanted to find a way to get football back to Raleigh.
“We heard them and we started working on that,” Carter said. “So the conversation with my president and with George (Williams) at Saint Aug. We talked about it and we talked about it and we said let’s see what we can do. This came about earlier this year. From there we kept talking and kept meeting until we got to the point where we are now.”
The meetings were mainly about setting a schedule that worked for everyone. Both schools had to pull up their composite schedules and find a way to make sure the complex wasn’t double-booked. That meant moving a few games around, with the cooperation of the CIAA and its schools. For example, SAU will play at Winston-Salem State for a second straight year, instead of the Rams coming to Raleigh.
Shaw’s football schedule was released Friday and the Bears will play their first game in Raleigh on Sept. 14 against defending CIAA champion Bowie State. That same weekend the Falcons will play at Mars Hill University. SAU’s home opener is the following week versus Virginia State, while the Bears hit the road that week, traveling to Murfreesboro for a showdown with Chowan.
Between the two schools, there will be a game played at the George Williams Complex for seven straight weeks to start the season. The only weekend with no games will be Oct. 26.
Livingstone, a fellow CIAA member, will be well acquainted with the stadium. The Blue Bears are the only school in the conference who will play there twice, coming to Raleigh in consecutive weeks to play SAU on Oct. 12 and Shaw on Oct. 19.
Saving money for Shaw
Like a lot of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, money, especially with athletics, is an issue. The Division II CIAA schools sometimes have to get creative with stretching dollars in their athletic budget.
Shaw and SAU are both private institutions so finances aren’t available to the public. But Carter said the school had to pay for transportation to Durham for its football team, cheerleaders, band and student body on top of stadium rental fees.
Carter wouldn’t disclose the amount Durham County Stadium charged Shaw and Durham County has yet to fulfill the News and Observer’s public records request.
However the county’s online rental form for the stadium shows the rate approved on July 1, 2016, was $600 per hour for collegiate teams.
A home football game, for any college team, is typically an all-day event. That can easily become an eight-hour day, if not longer, which would cost $4,800 at the minimum.
Last year Shaw played four home games at Durham County Stadium. At $600 per hour, that would have cost the school $19,200 in rental fees alone.
The Bears will now cut cost on travel and get to keep most of their gate at the George Williams Athletic Complex, paying SAU a “small fee” according to Williams. The Shaw staff will run the game day operations - ticket booth, concessions, etc. - when it’s a Shaw home game.
Neither AD would say the amount, but Carter said the switch means a “tremendous savings” for Shaw.
“We’re fine,” he said with a slight smile when asked the rental fee at the George Williams Complex.
A win for Southeast Raleigh
This decision made sense, but Williams insists this is bigger than both institutions, with fans from both sides all over the city.
He said there are households all over the city that are divided between the schools, and not just his own, with siblings sometimes picking between the two rivals. Now the citizens who root for one school or the other, or just casual fans in the neighborhoods surrounding SAU, can walk to the stadium if they are a fan of either team.
For many years, Carter heard from fans who complained about the drive to Durham being too long. Playing in Raleigh, he explains, might also open more doors for local sponsors.
In the past he’s encountered businesses that thought about buying an ad in the gameday program, but were concerned fans were going to stay in Durham after a game, instead of driving back to Raleigh and spending their money at the advertisers’ places of business. The money fans spent in Durham — food, gas, hotel for out of town fans — will now flood Southeast Raleigh on Saturdays in the fall.
“Now that we are here,” Carter said, “we hope that will open up.”
Shaw averaged 5,800 to 6,000 fans playing in Durham but believes the convenience of playing in Raleigh is worth the reduced capacity. The Falcons averaged 1,750 to 2,000 fans per home game.
Since the announcement was made last week, feedback from alums on both sides has been positive, for the most part.
“Everyone is going to have their own situations because they are not in the huddle,” Williams said. “I always say, you have to be in the huddle to know the play. Everyone is going to have their own likes and dislikes. In the long run it’s a win-win situation for both institutions and for the city of Raleigh and for Southeast Raleigh.”
Carter was somewhat surprised by the reaction from the Shaw side.
“We vetted our Hall of Fame committee, our national alumni president, our booster club and it was very positive,” Carter said. “I’ve talked to some of my church members who are SAU alumni and they said we should have done this a long time ago. We were pleasantly surprised that that’s what they were thinking.”
Carter said this could open the doors for more cooperation moving forward between Shaw and SAU.
“I think this is a great collaboration which will translate to other things that we can do together as two institutions located right here in Raleigh,” Carter said. “I think it’s a win-win for everybody on both sides.”