By Avis Heath
Guest Contributor

They say shit rolls downhill. If that’s the case, the SWAC is in serious trouble because the conference is led by the most incompetent commissioner in the history of organized sports, Duer Sharp.

Sharp is not keeping the SWAC up with similar conferences. As a matter of fact, the SWAC is falling behind. From establishing baseball tournament sites only two weeks prior to the start date, to being conspicuously absent during the most embarrassing moment in recent SWAC memory (the Grambling football walk-out), Duer Sharp has demonstrated that he is not person to advance the SWAC to higher levels.

Who affiliated with the SWAC didn’t hang their heads in shame when the SWAC office opened the opportunity for ineligible teams to participate in the SWAC basketball tournament? Sharp is not finding a way to dig the SWAC out of its situation; he keeps making the hole deeper. What sane person would invite all 10 SWAC bands to the SWAC football championship game when half the schools in the conference are academically eligible? Wouldn’t that money have been better spent on member schools helping them improve their APR?

The SWAC does not compete athletically with comparable conferences. In 2013, SWAC football champion Southern University had an embarrassing loss to an average Northwestern State team 55-14. Texas Southern, the SWAC basketball tournament champs, lost to Cal Poly in the opening round of the 2014 NCAA tournament 81-69. Cal Poly was the 6th place team in the Big West conference with a 14-19 record. Division II schools like Tuskegee enjoy frequent victories over top SWAC schools. Other D2 schools (and below) like Arkansas Monticello, Concordia, Delta State, South Dakota State, Lincoln, and North Carolina Central have all enjoyed recent victories over SWAC schools.

At this moment, 60% of SWAC schools have been labeled ineligible by the NCAA for post season play in football mostly due to poor Academic Progress Rates. Most SWAC schools cannot meet the minimum requirements to remain eligible by the NCAA guidelines. Next year the minimum standards will increase eliminating more SWAC schools from being eligible for post season play.

It is rumored that the SWAC’s only plan to remedy this situation is to lower the bar and lift the self-imposed sanctions that stop SWAC schools from being eligible to participate in the SWAC football championship game if declared ineligible by the NCAA. If you think that’s far-fetched; last spring the SWAC asked the NCAA for special exemptions to allow several schools to play in the SWAC basketball tournament that had been declared ineligible by the NCAA. Thankfully, none of the four ineligible teams won the tournament.

What’s the use in being in Division I athletics if you are not going to adhere to and enforce academic guidelines and standards? The SWAC office has given up and waived the white flag on academics.

The SWAC has useless non progressive leadership, doesn’t compete athletically with similar conferences, and is not adhering to minimum NCAA academic requirements. The conference should seriously consider moving to Division II or forming its own league. Division II academic and financial requirements are less imposing and the SWAC can compete athletically with similar conferences. The SWAC could actually win (or at least compete in) post season tournaments as the success of Shaw women’s basketball and Winston Salem State football have demonstrated. What realistic chance does the SWAC stand to really compete in the NCAA post season tournaments? It may be time for the conference to let go and try something different. Doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result is truly the definition of insanity. Standards aren’t going to get any easier in the future which means the SWAC will fall further behind unless sensible measures are taken soon.

Avis Heath is a graduate of Jackson State University.


  1. A wonderful article and gives the fans something to think about. I like the points you are making and I agree with you. Something has to be done. We are not competing against other conferences at that level. Especially, when it comes to academics.

  2. North Carolina Central is Division I. And I do believe the SWAC needs a new commissioner but it isn’t solely his fault the SWAC is lacking. It’s the SWAC presidents, SWAC coaches, recruiting tactics, student athletes, bad financial management, alumni support, etc as well that’s keeping us from leading the pack if you will. MEAC > SWAC, we’re not even the best HBCU conference yet.

    But despite all that the SWAC is still relevant and have more exposure/fanfare than most non-major conferences.

  3. Great article highlighting the some of the problems with the conferences. The commenters, especially D, brought up good points that many are quietly saying about these issues. Too often, these organizations are ran by good old boys who are complacent with the position and satisfied with their nice salary. What the SWAC, HBCUs and even the other HBCU conferences need are problem who can hustle, have vision, take risks and willing to bring money, marketing, leadership and quality to the table. Bring these items and others qualities similar to that of the larger conferences and you bring a better quality product and recruits.

  4. What is missing in this equation is that there’s a difference in “state” universities and private universities. State universities in the SWAC are ALL state funded universities in southern states with conservative legislatures that are slashing budgets at an alarming rate at HBCUs.

    Additionally, the SWAC commissioner has not effectively advanced the academic and athletic missions of its member schools. Post season play should have also included not being able to play in the conference championship game. The conference championship game is not a regular season game either. So, Duer Sharp failed in that aspect too if Southern had’ve defeated Grambling in that regard. There was no mention of Duer Sharp at the SWAC East game, the SWAC West game (SU vs GSU), or the SWAC Championship game. Whose interests is he representing?

    Allowing schools to stay in underwater athletic sponsorship contracts, not pursuing other sports networks when NBC moved games from primetime channels to cable sports channels, etc.

    In the interest of State Farm pulling its sponsorship of the Bayou Classic, that wasn’t on the SWAC. That was on fell on the University of Louisiana Systems (ULS) and Southern University System for the merry-go-round of university presidents, chancellors and athletic directors and The Bayou Classic Committee for not protecting and advancing its brand.

    I do agree with other points made.


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