By Avis Heath
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.