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HBCU Football Teams Get a Shot at Big Paydays, National Exposure

The common sports phrase “there’s no such thing as a gimme” was never more appropriate than at the beginning of the 2007 college football season. Sports fans around the country were shocked as tiny Appalachian State beat, one of the most successful programs in history, the University of Michigan with a score of 34-32. Going into the September 1st game Michigan was ranked the fifth best team in the nation.

But with a guaranteed payout of $ 400,000, many experts say ASU was a winner before the game for simply being on Michigan’s schedule. While there haven’t been any upsets in the games between HBCU football teams and the major programs, there are a lot more HBCU teams getting the chance to profit their programs even with a loss on the field.

In the first four weeks of this season two HBCU teams played nationally ranked teams for the first time. South Carolina State University played, then 17th ranked, University of South Carolina, and Norfolk State University played, then 13th ranked, Rutgers University. South Carolina State received $230,000 from USC and Norfolk State received $275,000 from Rutgers for the away games. Both S.C. State and NSU are members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and earn no money when they play away games with conference members.

“When I became the athletic director here, I knew that was the direction we had to move in,” says Marty Miller, of Norfolk State. “Athletics play an important role for the university. Not only did we get a monetary benefit, [but] we were nationally televised and that creates interest and exposure for other areas of the university.”

S.C. State was able to schedule two big games. In addition to the payday from the USC game, they received $225,000 from the U.S. Air Force Academy. S.C. State’s entire athletic budget is approximately $8 million.

“Any Division II school would jump at the opportunity to receive such a windfall. It’s taken a while for a number of factors, but it’s a trend that I think is here to stay ” says Floyd Keith, executive director of the Black Coaches and Administrators.

One of these factors is that colleges are playing between two or three more games than they used to. With major programs looking to fill those slots with a sure win, HBCU’s have a greater chance of being scheduled. The conventional thinking is that they can pad their schedule before facing their tougher conference teams, according to experts.

In South Carolina, political intervention played a role in the USC-S.C. State game. State lawmakers raised issues of equity when questioning why USC, the state’s flagship school, had always given other small state schools a game on their schedule, but never S.C. State.

Buddy Pugh, head football coach of S.C. State, says more of these games could be scheduled if leaders at various schools took the initiative. “It starts with the leadership of each particular college, especially with the athletic director and the head coaches. There has to be dialogue between the two universities.”

–Frank J. Matthews

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