Southern will compete in the inaugural Gulf Coast Challenge football game against Alabama A&M at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama, Sept. 22.
The venture was officially announced in a news conference at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Friday, complete with the introduction of an official mascot — a Mardi Gras jester named Marty.
The game is produced by the Mobile Sports Authority, and organizers said Friday the hope is to keep the game going on a yearly basis.
That does not necessarily mean Southern will always compete in the game itself.
“We can’t commit to a classic,” said Southern athletic director Roman Banks, who was present at the news conference. “It’s an Alabama A&M home game; they just moved it there. They advertised it as the Gulf Coast Challenge, but they moved a home game.”
That did not stop Southern coach Dawson Odums from making a pitch.
By playing against Alabama A&M in Mobile rather than the northern outpost of Huntsville, Alabama, Southern is cutting several hours off its travel time — both for its team and its fans.
“We don’t like that trip (to Huntsville),” Odums said, eliciting some laughs at the news conference. “… Let’s get Southern a little closer, I appreciate that. I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
For the first time in more than a decade, the Southern football team will play fewer than 11 regular-season games.
The game is not officially connected to the former Gulf Coast Classic, which Southern competed in 13 times — the last being against Alabama State in the final edition of the game in 2009.
The Gulf Coast Challenge will have several of the extracurricular activities associated with Classic games, including a kickoff concert, a college and career fair a pregame parade and a tailgate party.
Tim Hale Jr., the executive director of the Gulf Coast Challenge, said a second line from the tailgate and into the stadium will be led by the Mobile based Jukebox Brass Band.