There was a time when players like Walter Payton, Richard Dent and John Stallworth had white majority schools’ athletic directors, praying for a few white players with talent like theirs. Over time we’ve seen a major shift in the spectrum of where the talent lies in college sports.
There are two main causes for the decline in HBCU athletic programs, desegregation and the administration’s lack of innovation. Desegregation is a wild card, because it is one the biggest civil occurrences that ever happened in America.
How could desegregation cause the plummet of our athletic programs? Well for one, once blacks and whites integrated, it opened a whole new window of opportunity for players of color. They were now being introduced to lavish workout facilities, stadiums that seated 60,000, nationally televised games and scholarship packages that far exceeded what the average HBCU could offer.
Once HBCU’s were desegregated, there was increased competition for recruiting. The barriers for other universities to come in and compete effectively for acquiring athletes, was low. Majority white schools were able to differentiate themselves from HBCUs.
This brings us to the lack of innovation displayed by HBCU athletic programs over the years. HBCUs have been under funded since founding, but there has been a lack of urgency and emphasis placed on trying to create opportunities to acquire money for programs.
When interviewed by an ESPN correspondent, Floyd Kerr, Morgan State University’s athletics director, said the lack of talent isn’t because of integration. He also said black schools did not properly prepare for a future without the talent advantage they’d held since they began playing football.
“When integration hit and majority institutions began to extract from HBCU talent pools, HBCUs did not counter that by adjusting to compete on the resource side,” said Kerr, who was athletic director at Southern University from 2000 to 2004. “But the schools that became [black colleges’] competitors, they recognized that to have excellence, from a competitive standpoint, you had to put greater resources in it.”
Let’s not forget the career opportunities that come along with playing for a majority white institution. Take a look at these figures: For the past 40 years, the NFL draft clearly reflects the change in the football landscape. Between 1967 and 1976, as segregation began to break down, NFL teams selected 443 players from historically black schools. During the next 20 years, 291 players from black colleges were drafted. Only 55 players from black schools have been selected in the past 10 drafts up to 2007.
In states like Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, where talent was great, the drop off was the most staggering. Between 1967 and 1976, Southern University, Grambling, Jackson State, Alcorn State, Mississippi Valley State, Texas Southern and Prairie View produced more than 35 NFL draft picks per school. In the past 10 years. Those schools had a total of 15 players drafted. It is shocking to see how the players chosen from HBCUs for the NFL have tremendously declined.
Now, what can HBCUs do to fix their stagnant athletic programs? Even though I am not a qualified administrator, just listening to conversations held by several athletic department personnel, I am under the impression that squeezing more dollars out of federal and state entities can be a difficult and quite frankly, almost futile task. We need to tap into our alumni network as much as possible for contributions, especially well-off and connected alumni and observe what other universities are doing to improve their programs.
Majority white institutions had no problem taking a dip in the talent pool of blacks, so /why shouldn’t HBCU’s see what programs and strategies they’ve implemented to build their programs?
Finally, there must be a special culmination of athletes that find value in competing within the realm of the SWAC, MEAC and the few other conferences dominated by HBCUs.
A more immediate alternate solution is: if teams within these conferences win consistently, make and compete effectively in national tournaments, and become regarded as a competitive threat to majority schools. At that point, they will demand national exposure and top high school athletes will be more interested in attending HBCUs.
These events will allow federal and state entities to realize that HBCU athletic programs are worthwhile institutions that need more resources to be poured into them.
Let us restore athletic competition and respect for our historically black college campuses to what it once was, so that we can be proud of the success of our teams and eliminate fans leaving game after halftime.