By Rickey Hampton, For The African-American Athlete,
As I watch the weekly updates of teams jockeying for a spot in the FBS playoffs, I wish there was a way for Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs) to have a playoff system of their own.
Yeah, I know that HBCUs already compete in the FCS playoff system.
But let’s be honest, Black College programs aren’t a factor in those playoffs anymore.
Florida A&M University is the only FCS school to capture a national title at the FCS level in football, and that was in 1978 when it was called I-AA.
We must come to the realization that HBCUs simply don’t have the money, or the recruiting base, to compete against the top echelon FCS programs.
Black college programs face a recruiting deficit with FCS schools. Consider that FCS powers such as Jacksonville State out of the Ohio Valley Conference, can recruit outstanding talent from black and white communities.
Meanwhile, a school like Tennessee State University, the only HBCU to compete in a mainstream conference, can only recruit top talent from black communities. If there are white players on a roster at an HBCU, they are probably there because they couldn’t go anywhere else.
Sure, there are some exceptions to that. TSU’s Lane Clark is white, and he one of the best place kickers in the country. However, for the most part white players do not impact programs at black colleges the way black players impact programs at mainstream schools.
However, all that is perfectly fine because Black College football has its own niche. The tradition of Black College football is why HBCUs are historically always near the top of the game attendance at the FCS level.
That fact is why HBCUs should break away from the NCAA (at least for football) and form their own championship series. It would be easy to do, because you already have the championship game set up, and in place (The Celebration Bowl in Atlanta features the MEAC and SWAC champs).
Why not have a HBCU playoff to decide the National Champion? Formulate a playoff system which brings in the teams from the four HBCU conferences, MEAC, SWAC, SIAC and CIAA.
This is what fans of HBCU football really want to see. I assure you, the brother who attended Howard University would love to tell his law partner, who attended Hampton University, that the Bison won the National Championship.
Now, this concept is not unheard of, and this is not trying to segregate HBCU schools. It is all about HBCUs finding their niche.
There are Christian colleges that compete in the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA), that compete against NCAA, NAIA and non-denominational programs. However, when it comes down to tournaments and playoffs, they are merely taking on schools that are similar to their philosophy in academics and athletics.
That is precisely how HBCUs should approach their own national title. Here is how:
Take the top four teams from each conference and seed them in semifinal games. The four champions that emerge from their respective conferences will then meet in the Celebration Bowl championship in Atlanta in a doubleheader national title game:
- Game 1 features the champions from the NCAA Division II, CIAA and SIAC conferences.
- Game 2 will be the MEAC and SWAC champions.
The weekend should not only be a national championship game for HBCU football, but a true celebration of HBCU’s athletic legacy. How about teaming up with the Black College Football Hall of Fame to make the official announcement of their yearly Hall of Fame class? Better yet, have the induction ceremony become part of the weekend.
Conduct a Celebration Bowl basketball tournament in conjunction with the game, a battle of the bands, a greek night step show and recruiting fair, and you have put together an extraordinary weekend.
There were 35,000 on hand for the Celebration Bowl in 2015, and there is no reason that Black College National Championship weekend would draw even more.
And, if ESPN is truly the worldwide leader in sports it claims to be, they would love it. I bet the Coca-Cola Company, whose world headquarters are in Atlanta, and Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, would love to get behind a celebration such as this. It’s a win, win, win all the way around.
The presidents and athletic directors at America’s HBCUs have an incredible opportunity in front of them, if they would be bold enough to take it.