Sports and the apathetic HBCU

As a proud graduate of Delaware State University and admirer of schools such as Hampton, Howard, North Carolina A&T and the AUC schools, I consider myself to have some knowledge of and a vested interest in Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

We can all agree that an institution of higher learning’s first and primary goal on any level is to educate their students and prepare them as best they can for the real world. A lot of our HBCUs do that, other still have some work to be done, but by and large it’s not a cause for concern.

One thing that is cause for concern is the lack of interest most black colleges have towards their athletic programs, with more than a few culprits available for questioning. During a conversation via Twitter with Jarrett Carter, Sr. (Morgan State alum and founding editor of HBCU Digest) and Trey McCray, a fellow sports reporter and Bowie State grad, we all came to the conclusion that many black colleges don’t believe in sports as a morale booster or a money maker for their schools – just extra curricular activities like a middle school glee club or something.

Hate to pick on one school when there are so many guilty of it, but Howard University’s administration seems to give zero damns about their athletic programs and it shows in the yearly struggles the Bison have endured in all sports as a member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. We all know Howard – The Mecca, The Real HU, probably the best-known HBCU for its location in the nation’s capital and their endless list of achievements in various fields and famous alumni that represent the school proudly. With that brand recognition in place, why has Howard not become a force (or resumed being a force) in sports? The Washington, D.C. area is a hotbed for basketball and football talent, but those kids wouldn’t be caught dead at Howard – why? Poor facilities, poor management and just an overall lack of recognition of how important athletics can be to a college. Homecoming is indeed great for fellowship, reunions and entertainment, but it’s brought down a notch when your football team gets blasted every year.

If Howard updated Greene Stadium and Burr Gymnaisum (which I think has a gorgeous charm to it as is) and made efforts to recruit local kids and have a desire to win, they would RUN the MEAC. And as I’ve said, the MEAC needs Howard to be great. Your best known school with good athletics? It would be heavenly.

Howard isn’t the only one – Morgan State (aside from the brilliant hire of Todd Bozeman for men’s hoops) hasn’t shown an inclination towards improving, and my alma mater DSU is in way over its head with niche programs like equestrian that few people of color care about.

Also, it is expensive to run an NCAA Division I program – most budgets for even mid-major DI schools are 10s of millions of dollars. HBCUs for the most part don’t have that endowment handy. So what’s a solution to save money, yet remain (or in some cases, BECOME) competitive? A step down. Division II budgets are manageable, you don’t have to give away as many scholarships for sports (and that money saved could go other places in the university system where needed).

Credit goes to Winston-Salem State University for understanding that there was no shame in returning to DII and the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Lo and behold, the Rams are among the CIAA’s power schools in various sports. I look at nine HBCUs from Southeastern Pennsylvania to the Delmarva Peninsula (Lincoln, Cheyney, DSU, UDC, Howard, UMES, Coppin, Morgan and Bowie) that would make a DYNAMITE Division II conference that would give the CIAA and SIAC a run for their money and scare most PWI conferences in that classfication. It would take a daring move for this to happen and since HBCU administrations play it conservatively by most accounts, it would never happen. Yet and still it makes the most sense – you save money, you have natural rivalries and you can still get some very good athletes in the process. And while the professional ranks aren’t always casting their scouting eyes on Division II schools, it still can happen. I said it in a commentary for HBCU Digest in November – if you can play, they’ll find you.

All of this just talk of course and a new D-II conference may never happen. But a dialogue is necessary. HBCUs getting their butts kicked day in and day out in sports is never fun for alums and lovers of the schools. The sooner the administrations drop the apathy and realize that sports builds camraderie and pride among the student body, the better off HBCUs will be in the sporting arena. Hopefully we won’t have to wait terribly long for that collective light bulb to go on.


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