Once again the inequity of power between NCAA member schools and athletes was ever apparent last week when commissioners of the MEAC and SWAC announced the leagues would be participating in a postseason bowl game brought to you by ESPN and corporate sponsors this December in Atlanta.
The worst kept secret in all of HBCU sports had been made official. The Celebration Bowl is scheduled to pit the champions of the both black colleges in a bowl game during the height of bowl season leading up to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in January 2016.
While Dennis Thomas, commissioner of the MEAC, paints a picture that the game builds on the conference’s “continued efforts in branding and increasing its exposure on a national platform,” we all know this is just a big money grab like most bowl games are.
I support the money grab simply because conferences like the MEAC and SWAC — historically underfunded institutions that don’t have large endowments or television contracts to support collegiate athletics on the same scale as major Division I programs — are struggling with debt and to remain competitive in athletics outside of the black college ecosystem.
However, the distributing development in all this is that MEAC champion will forgo the FCS postseason to as part Celebration Bowl agreement.
Social media and message boards have been filled with chatter about what this all means. Some have no issue with scrapping the postseason because it is not a lucrative option financially the deeper the football team treks toward a national championship.
Others claim the MEAC’s 8-31 all-time record in postseason play should make the decision to go all in on the Celebration Bowl a no-brainer.
The obvious rebuttal to this is that it appears the MEAC is cowering — giving up the right to claim a championship to play in an inferior contest, although MEAC schools can still make the postseason via an at-large berth.
How do you feel if you’re a MEAC football player right now? The leaders of the league — the one you risk your health and life for — took away your dream (a small one) of playing for a national championship.
This is a much easier pill to swallow if the circumstance was decided between the white lines. Fair and square. Let the athletes settle it.
That’s sports custom.
But in a boardroom?
When I was a young athlete, my goals were to play in the Little League World Series as a 12-year-old for Jackie Robinson West, and the College World Series as an 18-year-old for Jackson State University.
I couldn’t imagine how I would have felt if some suits — before the season started — announced that wouldn’t be happening even if that privilege was earned on the field.
Far too often athletes — only valued for their physical gifts by mercenary coaches, the press and selfish fans who care more about money, page views and validation from others — aren’t given a voice when pieces of their athletic destinies are decided.
Did anyone from the MEAC poll the athletes before even starting discussions? Why weren’t football players allowed a seat at the table?
They would be the players impacted the most by the decision.
It is why the Grambling football team staging a strike two seasons ago was so timely and so damn brave. Why the young men at Northwestern fighting to form a union was so refreshing.
Athletes must be heard. They are more than jersey numbers, muscles, speed and jumpers.
They are more than disposable chips that can be cashed in to enrich everyone else but themselves.
When the athletes engage civil disobedience, there is nothing an athletic director, a coach or alum can do about it. They render otherwise powerful individuals and entities powerless.
These days, everyone instead of the athlete holds all the power and use it repeatedly to disenfranchise their most valuable commodities.
MEAC football players are going to take the field this season and compete like they’ve always done, whether an FCS championship is at stake or not. That’s what athletes do. They compete.
Nonetheless, they will, though, understand that the people who claimed to care about them do anything but.