HBCU Classic Sports
Football Edition, Volume I
(courtesy: John Hopkins University of Medicine, COVID-19 Dashboard)
By: Ty Prather, Nov. 11, 2020 (updated: Feb. 6, 2021)
It has been over 11 months since COVID-19 turned the world bizzarro, over two million people have died globally, including 460,000 in the United States alone. There really has not been much positivity to point to, other than dogged perseverance. The death tolls keep climbing and the second wave of COVID-19 is hitting hard and fast.
Yet, last week, President-elect, Joe Biden, and Vice-President-elect, Kamala Harris, won the 2020 election. The world celebrated, Americans danced in the street, the stock market rallied, and low and behold, Phizer Inc., announced that its Phase 3 vaccine trials are proving 90% effective. What a great week to be alive.
Later, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading infectious disease expert in the United States, stated, “The vaccine is on its way, folks, so hang in there, hang tough. We’re going to get over this together,”. (Chappell, B.) Moreover, Dr. Fauci went as far as to give a timeline for mass distribution of the vaccine – 2nd or 3rd quarter 2021.
Collectively, this is great news for all, but especially the HBCU Universe. While some are prophylactically navigating their way through in-person learning, others are still operating virtually. Different jurisdictions are taking different approaches to mass social gatherings and re-openings, but COVID-19 is relentless and uncooperative.
The balancing test between health and safety versus economics is a slippery slope. While government reserves can supplement the population temporarily, eventually, the private sector must ramp up, and small business owners must be allowed to feed their families.
During the summer 2020, the HBCU Universe collectively, and wisely, cancelled all Fall Sports. This “safe not sorry” approach has undoubtedly saved countless lives since African Americans were initially viewed as disproportionally affected by the virus.
Conversely, the NCAA FBS Power 5 and even several mid-major conferences are playing football in Fall 2020. Coronavirus be damned, at top FBS football schools, over $90M a year is at stake. Apparently, the COVID-19 spikes, in those corresponding states, is not a sufficient deterrent to forego salvaging as much of the Fall season as possible. Obviously, the economics in those cases makes the cost-benefit analysis much more difficult, but in the HBCU Universe, where top programs tap out around $6M or less, in football revenue, the risks simply outweigh the rewards. (Barnett, Z.)
HBCU Division II conferences, the CIAA and SIAC, both concluded that neither football nor basketball, will be played in Fall 2020 or Spring 2021.
HBCU Division I conferences, the MEAC and SWAC, are headed in different directions. Bethune-Cookman, Florida A&M, North Carolina Central, Norfolk State, Morgan State and NC A&T have all opted out, thereby, causing the MEAC to suspend Spring Football 2021.
However, SC State, Howard and Delaware State will play at least two games each. Both Florida A&M and Bethune Cookman end their athletic relationships with the MEAC, and head to the SWAC. Both NC A&T and Hampton will play in the Big South Conference next season.
In SWAC football news, all the rage is recent Jackson State hire, Coach Prime a.k.a. Deion Sanders, the former NFL Hall of Fame cornerback. Coach Prime has sparked new life into a mediocre Jackson State program. Season ticket sales have skyrocketed, the national press and social media are enamored, and top recruits are flipping their FBS commitments to join Coach Prime, including his son, ESPN Top 60 QB, Shedeur Sanders.
Recent NCAA imposed sanctions for rules violations have not dampened the “Prime Effect”.  (Note: JSU recruiting and certification violations occurred prior to Coach Sanders’ hiring.) It is too soon to predict on-field results, but early prognostication is that Jackson State has scored big in the box office.
In both, SWAC and MEAC, men’s and women’s basketball will continue as planned, but fan attendance appears to be a localized decision. So, HBCU fans are left to hope Howard’s big recruiting haul, featuring 5-star recruit, Makur Maker, will be televised. (Update: Howard cancelled it’s remaining basketball season due to COVID-19 concerns.)
In the SWAC, Mo Williams, 13-year NBA veteran, NBA champion, and All-star, takes the helm of Alabama State Basketball. The Alabama native son, returned immediate dividends signing ESPN 3-star prep, Trace Young, 6-8, F, Mt. Zion Prep.
In sum, we are all in unchartered territory and the best we can do is move forward bravely, but cautiously, employing best practices. Schedules are tentatively set, but fluid, we just do not know what the future holds. Recent vaccine news is promising, and a new administration can only help, but many questions remain.
If senior-athletes are granted another season, how will that impact incoming freshman? Will schools be granted exemptions from their scholarship limits? How will playing two football seasons in one calendar year affect student-athletes? How will a missed season impact programs long-term readiness? Will African Americans readily submit to the vaccine? What, if any, are the long-term side effects of the vaccine and its efficacy? Will there be equitable distribution of the vaccine? Will the NFL conduct an HBCU Combine for draft-eligible players?
 Sharrock, Rudy, ”FAMU cancels delayed football season, other sports due to COVID concerns”, https://www.tallahassee.com/story/sports/college/famu/2020/11/11/famu-cancels-delayed-football-season-other-fall-sports-during-spring/6256078002/
 James, Emily., “Jackson State violated NCAA rules”, http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/media-center/news/jackson-state-violated-ncaa-rules.
 Chappell, Bill. ‘The Vaccine Is On Its Way, Folks,’ Fauci Says As Brooklyn Names Him A COVID-19 Hero. https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/11/10/933439300/the-vaccines-on-its-way-folks-fauci-says-as-brooklyn-names-him-a-covid-hero.
 Barnett, Zach. “The Highest Grossing Football Programs are…”, https://footballscoop.com/news/the-highest-grossing-football-programs-in-college-football-are/