Where HBCU athletic programs should be amid the frenetic arms race for recruits and revenue in an expanding college sports ecosystem has been well-documented.
Florida A&M coach Willie Simmons and Jackson State coach Deion Sanders explained on Monday how HBCUs should be thinking about their place when asked whether SWAC schools would attempt to demand and leverage TV deals to improve programs in the same fashion as FBS schools.
“Do we even think like that?” Sanders asked in response to the question posed by music mogul Luther Campbell as part of a Twitter Spaces conversation. “Coach Simmons knows that, he thinks like that. I think like that. Eddie (George) thinks like that. Hue (Jackson) thinks like that.
Everyone that’s been outside the realm of college football thinks like that. But everyone doesn’t and that singlehandedly has been where the problem is. We all need to think like that and think outside the box.”
Simmons, whose Rattlers will face Sanders’ Tigers in the Orange Blossom Classic in Miami, Florida on Sept. 4, added HBCUs must first “decide what and who we want to be” now and in the future while balancing longheld traditions versus the current aspirational realities that collegiate programs have.
“I think a lot of times — again this isn’t to ruffle any feathers — but I think that word tradition sometimes handicaps us because we feel like the tradition of Jake Gaither, Eddie Robinson (and) W.C. Gordon … that (we are) somehow throwing that away if we aspire to become a Power 5 program or we aspire to become an FBS program,” said Simmons. “But the reality of it is if we want to provide the best opportunities for our young men and women, then what’s best for us (is) to go out and secure significant TV revenue because that’s what the money is, right?”
Simmons went on to explain that Division I schools and conferences are able to secure multimillion-dollar media rights deals that outweighed whatever revenue stream that could not be made up by alumni giving alone — something that has often been the lifeblood of HBCUs.
While Simmons said he appreciates alumni and community investment in HBCUs, until schools are afforded a “multi-million, billion-dollar TV deal” where each member institution can benefit, economic disparities will continue to exist.
The third-year FAMU coach said that schools — big and small — all across the country have taken the initiative to exit conferences, sacrifice in-state rivalries and leave familiar terrain to put their programs in a better position athletically and financially.
Florida A&M most recently joined the SWAC along with Bethune-Cookman after more than 30 years in the MEAC.
“Tennessee State left, you know, to go join a predominately white institution conference. (North Carolina) A&T did it. Then Hampton did it. They were viewed as sellouts and (that) they’re getting away from their HBCU roots or from the tradition of HBCUs,” said Simmons, who also used schools from Power 5 conferences leaving to join another for several million in yearly payouts.
And there are other schools across the country that have done the same thing. The purists say, ‘Oh well, you know we got some rivalries that aren’t even taking place anymore.’ Well, guess what? Those programs are still able to thrive. And they’re winning because they’re in a position now where they can generate more revenue.”