Another day and another article has been penned reinforcing the notion that HBCU football is dying.
According to the likes of former Jackson State standout Eddie Payton and Associated Press scribe David Brandt, no players from the SWAC or MEAC being taken in the 2014 NFL Draft means everyone connected with these conferences should be looking to get their affairs in order to prepare for the impending closure of these institutions as a result.
For the first time in the NFL’s common draft era, which started in 1967, not one player from the Southwestern Athletic Conference or Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference was selected this month. The two conferences combined to produce at least 20 NFL draft picks every year from 1967 to 1976, according to research by STATS. That output has slowly declined since.
I, like many members of the press love to rely on statistics to tell the story, to fill in the gaps and holes. However, stats without context means nothing. While it is somewhat disappointing that no player from the SWAC or MEAC was drafted, especially with talented guys like Alabama State running back Isaiah Crowell and Jackson State all-world defender Qua Cox among the available draft hopefuls, not mentioned in Brandt piece were several factors that contributes to the declining numbers.
For starters, the NFL Draft was once a 32-round marathon for much of the 1940s before being trimmed to 25 in the 1950s, to 20 in the 1960s, to 12 in the 1970s and currently to seven in the new millennium. Additionally, gone are AFL Draft and the USFL Draft, which competed for talent with the NFL from the 1960 through the late 198os. If the 2014 version included more rounds, or there were other competing professional leagues, several FCS HBCU players more than likely would have been taken.
There are just fewer opportunities for players, regardless of school, to be drafted as it stands now.
Also not mentioned was the expansion of schools that have instituted football programs since 1976. There are 125 FBS programs and 124 FCS programs, and we haven’t even included the Division II and Division III schools in this equation. This has led to more opportunities for more players from more conferences to be seen by NFL scouts. The growing marketplace the last four decades has created more competition among college football players for spots.
We can’t forget that there is an inherit small school bias among NFL teams. The SEC, regarded as the nation’s best football conference, had 49 players selected in this month’s draft compared to only 23 non-FBS players picked. In fact, the final 2013 FCS top 25 rankings highlighted that disparity. Just five players from that group were picked in the 2014 draft, two of which came from historically black Tennessee State. Only two players, including Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo taken in the second round by the New England Patriots, was selected from a school in the top 5.
Just because a player is not drafted doesn’t mean he can’t represent his school and conference proudly.
About 20 percent of NFL starters entered the league as undrafted free agents last year.
In 2012, teams signed 622 undrafted players and 98 of them (16 percent) made Week 1 rosters, ProFootballTalk reported.
Another 33 made practice squads, meaning 37 percent earned NFL jobs. — CBS Sports
Then we move to this gem served up by former Jackson State standout Eddie Payton, who attempted to put into coherent words why SWAC football has fallen off.
Payton traced the SWAC’s downfall back to the 1980s and 1990s, when programs started playing “Classic” games on the road in places like Chicago and Indianapolis. Payton said in an effort to spread the HBCU brand and earn a little extra money, leaders focused too much on the schools’ popular marching bands and the parties surrounding the games instead of the football.
If anything, those “Classic” games have done a lot more good contrary to unpopular belief. HBCU football programs never had the backing of a powerful sports cable network to promote its product on the field and universities.
Playing in Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Indianapolis has helped expose generations of people to black colleges in areas where such schools are considered afterthoughts. Those games have been used as a recruiting tool for athletes and students interested in playing ball or pursuing an education at places were the majority of the people look like them.
And that can’t be undervalued in the backdrop of affirmative action coming under attack. It is fair to say that HBCUs didn’t go step further in taking advantage of these barnstorming tours from an economic perspective, but to say the neutral site games are the culprit in the decline of the SWAC is wrong and shortsighted. We also can’t overlook the role integration played in whatever drop off the SWAC has experienced over the last 20 years. The elite athletes are not signing on with HBCUs. Black colleges don’t have stockpiles of talent anymore because white schools didn’t want blacks to defile their campuses. Payton should know this. But he chooses to blame Classics (which are being utilized by BCS schools) and bands.
Ah, the comparison of Big State Us. to HBCUs is always a fair one.
As TV contracts for college football have grown, the bigger schools have been able to pour money into facilities and programs that make it nearly impossible for HBCUs to compete for elite athletes. And, as recruiting has grown more sophisticated, schools from around the country have been taking star football players out of the South, the main talent base for the HBCUs. College sports revenue and spending have become increasingly unequal over the past three decades, and HBCUs have hard time keeping up.
How about we take a gander at what the Southern Conference, Big Sky and the Southland are looking like? That would be a more proper comparison to make. No, let’s compare Walmart to the corner store!
These articles attempt to fuel the stereotype that HBCU athletics are the bane of existence in terms of cultivating and producing professional talent when it is not the case when holding them up against their peer counterparts at the same level, especially considering that ONLY ONE PERCENT OF ALL COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYERS COMPETE PROFESSIONALLY TO BEGIN WITH!!!