By Steven J. Gaither
This weekend’s Celebration Bowl marked the end of the HBCU football season, but the start of a new relationship. The NFL teamed up with two of the four NCAA HBCU conferences, the MEAC and SWAC, for a careers forum in Atlanta as part of a previously announced forum.
And apparently they aren’t done. The NFL announced on Monday that it will honor the 29 Hall of Famers that attended HBCUs in a pre-game ceremony prior to Super Bowl LI.
While that is awesome news, as an advocate for all HBCUs, this partnership does give me cause for concern.
It appears that the two oldest HBCU conferences, the CIAA and the SIAC, are being left out in the cold while the other two conferences are reaping the benefits and being recognized as the sole proprietors in an enterprise in which they are just two pieces of the puzzle.
This isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way. It probably occurred during the 2014 MEAC Basketball Tournament when I noticed a full-sized frame recognizing MEAC players/alumni in the NFL Hall of Fame. As a student of history, I had to go check it our for myself.
So you can imagine my reaction when I realized that out of all the dozen or so players on the board, exactly one player actually competed in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Just one. Harry Carson of South Carolina State, who went on to have an excellent career with the New York Giants, played in the conference from 1972-1975.
The MEAC was formed in 1969, established in 1970, and began play in 1971. Before that, six of the original members played in the CIAA, while South Carolina State spent much of its time in the SIAC. So, while the MEAC claims Morgan State’s LeRoy Kelly as part of its Hall of Fame legacy, he actually competed in the CIAA. Same goes for “Bullet” Bob Hayes, who competed in the SIAC as a college athlete. Elvin Bethea (A&T), Willie Lanier (Morgan State) and Shannon Sharpe (Savannah State) are among the others whose schools are now in the MEAC but played in other conferences.
It’s basically like the ACC claiming Jim Brown on an ACC roster of Pro Football Hall of Famers simply because Syracuse joined the ACC a few years ago.
As for the new careers initiative, I can’t imagine the SIAC and CIAA turning down an opportunity to have its students involved in such a potentially powerful program. These conferences include some of the oldest and most academic rich institutions of any HBCUs, including Tuskegee, Morehouse, Lincoln University and others. Students at those HBCUs could definitely benefit from the opportunties that now currently exist exclusively to schools in the MEAC and SWAC.
We live in a world that priorities the large over the small. I get it. And few places is that gap as big as in the sports world, where ESPN and others routinely cover the biggest schools, and only comes knocking to the smaller ones when it smells a big story. But that’s why HBCUs as a whole often find themselves struggling for coverage.
This partnership is a great thing and will be great for both conferences and the NFL. The conferences can boast that they are providing off-the-field opportunities for students and the NFL can brag about what it is doing to help HBCUs. But as long as the CIAA and SIAC are left in the background or out of the picture completely, it’s hard to truly celebrate this partnership to the fullest for those who want HBCUs as a whole to win.
December 20, 2016 at 8:48 pm
You're on to something Steven!
December 20, 2016 at 10:19 pm
Make it a double header with the CIAA champ playing the SIAC Champs to insure better crowd attendance.
December 20, 2016 at 11:03 pm
Yes, a double hitter might increase attendance. What was the official attendance? I saw a lot of empty seats in the game pictures.
December 21, 2016 at 1:17 am
I agree with everything you were saying. As a matter of fact I was disgusting this with some friends of mine who was watching the game.The CIAA and SIAC needs to have a big time bowl or like one of the comments make it a double headed.
December 21, 2016 at 4:45 am
Double header sounds great! I attended a SWAC school (Grambling). Don't want to leave any HBCU out in the cold. However maybe they are focusing on these two conferences because the schools in the SWAC and MEAC may have weaker athletic programs than the CIAA or SIAC..but a double header would be great! This could bring the Freak Nik back to the ATL but a fall edition..lol!
December 21, 2016 at 4:00 pm
Excellent article Stephen and your examples are on point. Before Lincoln rejoined the CIAA, The Lions were a DIII Track powerhouse. Members of Lincoln National Champions T&F teams are not eligible for consideration and rightfully for CIAA HOF consideration because we weren't members at the time of the student athlete successes.
December 24, 2016 at 3:11 am
Division II schools need to compete within the NCAA playoffs…the model for a D2 bowl game has been tried with varying but the same result: they fold. I would say the D1 HBCUs need to do the same…they just want the air space to put their names in front of us, instead of investing in our overall infrastructure and growth…its played out throughout the 70s, 80s, 90's and now in the 2000s…
Darryl Lesley McGee
December 25, 2016 at 6:14 am
I agree with you. Like I have stated in the past, I am NO FAN of HBCU National Championship Games! Those games and accompanying championships mean ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!! I want to see schools continue to go into the NCAA Playoffs. For the conferences which do not want to participate in the NCAA Playoffs, expect to see some Student Athletes never wanting to attend your member schools. The Celebration Bowl and/or any other HBCU National Championship Game or Title are COMPLETELY MEANINGLESS! I would rather play for a National Championship which actually means something. That would include NCAA National Championships; NAIA National Championships; etc. A Mythical Black College Championship is nothing which anyone should ever want to strive for. Strive for something which actually means something!