Can HBCU Football Create its own Postseason Bowl Structure?
Deion Sanders might have something here.
In a year where there's been a renewed interest in all things HBCU-related, Deion Sanders' hiring as the new football coach at Jackson State University was one of the biggest stories out there. The move literally changed the trajectory of SWAC media visibility and it's set the table for some pretty interesting times for HBCU football fans at the FCS level. Coach Sanders hitting the ground running wasn't just limited to the Jackson State program. In a recent tweet to the FCS Bowl universe, the new J-State head coach wondered aloud about HBCUs getting a piece of the post-season bowl pie that football programs at the FBS level have access to:
While I think the thought process of a jump straight to FBS for ANY HBCU football program at the FCS level was him kinda throwing stuff on the wall to see what stuck, it got me to thinking; Is it possible for HBCU football programs at the FCS and Division II levels of the game to partake in the type of post-season bowl structure that we actually see at the FBS level? I mean, why can't that formula be replicated at the FCS and/or D2 level for HBCU programs (or any other programs for that matter, but for the sake of this article, we're sticking with HBCUs)?
For HBCU conferences at the FCS level, there are a couple of things that would need to happen to lay the groundwork for a concept like this to eventually take shape. The largest and most visible of these steps would have to do with both the SWAC and MEAC re-thinking their collective stances regarding the FCS playoff system, or more specifically, their respective LACK of participation in the playoffs. From a competitive visibility standpoint, it would re-establish a baseline for our programs to aspire to; A national championship. That's not a slight to the Celebration Bowl or the Black College National Championships that have been the highlight of HBCU football in recent years, but the opportunity to pit the best of HBCU football against the nation's best has its own appeal in terms of status and media visibility. Re-establishing participation in the playoffs could be done without doing away with events like the Celebration Bowl, or even the culturally rich classic games that are synonymous with the black college football experience.
In fact, the Celebration Bowl, or the recently defunct Pioneer Bowl for HBCUs at the D2 level, could be the crown jewel centerpieces for that secondary framework. I mean, why not have additional incentive for squads to compete for divisional championships or conference championships? Those games don't have to actually BE the end of the season for teams that may have fallen just short, but deserve to play somewhere in postseason play.
Mid-size markets in the South and Midwest could particularly be receptive to having some of these traditionally large fanbases travel to see their respective teams play in a bowl. There would be advertising and sponsorship opportunities for businesses as well. More importantly, it would be an opportunity for media outlets that are HBCU friendly to cover the pagentry of HBCU football on it's own terms WITHOUT foregoing the chance for our best to test their mettle in a national championship chase.
It can be done IF the powers that be in HBCU circles can think a bit bigger than the current status quo of classics and conference championships are. Some HBCU FCS programs are making that decision for themselves because of that status quo. North Carolina A&T and Hampton left for the Big South for better competitive opportunities. North Carolina A&T, in particular, has dominated the BCF scene and has gotten a modicum of national visibility doing so. It still hasn't stopped the program from seeking bigger challenges, and the pursuit of a National Championship is at the top of that priority list. Florida A&M and Bethune Cookman have jumped to the SWAC due to cost concerns, but the underlying idea of potentially competing for a national championship in the future is still there as well.
We may not be able to jump to FBS and compete in a Cotton Bowl or an Orange Bowl yet, but there's nothing stopping us from creating NEW traditions and legacies in the same fashion. It starts with our conferences taking a leap of faith and thinking outside of the box. North Carolina A&T and Hampton leaving the MEAC for the Big South may be the first step in a process that could very well come full circle. Either way, these are indeed exciting times for HBCU football.