Sanders said the idea centered around the two best HBCU football teams matching up against the top pair in the Ivy League in games that would be played in Atlanta and Orlando.
“It’s gonna be a wonderful stage we’re gonna get to know your culture you’re gonna get to know our culture. It’s gonna be wonderful,” said Sanders in describing his pitch. “It’s going to be banquets beforehand. It’s gonna be like a bowl game. We’re gonna be in that perspective city for three days. We’re going to be able to garner sponsors, it’s gonna be an incredible thing.”
Sanders, who had been adamant in recent weeks that Division Black college football should have the opportunity to participate in postseason bowl games beyond the Celebration Bowl just like FBS schools, said the suggestion was well received by unnamed Ivy League officials but did not ultimately come to fruition.
“And guess what? They (Ivy League) did it and left us out,” said Sanders. “They played a game against Howard this past year. Wonder where that idea came from. How are you gonna leave out ol’ Jackson State and I’m the one who called you to even do it in the process?”
During the regular season, Howard played Harvard as part of the Truth and Service Classic on Oct. 15, the second meeting between the schools since 2019. The Bison also played Yale on Oct. 1.
According to Howard athletic director Kery Davis, the push to play Ivy League schools has been an intentional strategy.
“It is a conscious decision that we’ve made in all of our sports, not just football, to play games against members of the Ivy League,” Davis told the Washington Post. “Ivy League schools are traditionally really strong academically, and Howard’s a very strong academic school, and we wanted people to make that association and understand the importance of athletics as part of the overall institutional curriculum.”
Ivy League spokesperson JJ Klein told HBCU Sports in an emailed statement that “Sanders and Ivy League executive director Robin Harris spoke in 2021 to discuss creative opportunities for the Ivy League and historically black colleges and universities to possibly partner together. The Ivy League is incredibly proud of its growing history of competing against HBCUs across a variety of sports and continues to be open to exploring and identifying meaningful ways to collaborate.”
Sanders, however, was disappointed that the partnership didn’t materialize.
“So that’s the kind of stuff I don’t like,” he said. “And I want them (the Ivy League) to lie because we have phone records and everything. Y’all know I keep receipts. So I don’t like that. …I think it was a wonderful idea. I still hope that we can do that. But as far as them coming out, saying they want to do that and we call them about that a year and a half ago.”
Monday wasn’t the first time an HBCU-Ivy League bowl game has been suggested. Princeton coach Bob Surace once recommended such a game be held. The Ivy League, like the MEAC and SWAC, does not have an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs, though schools can qualify through at-large berths.
“Why wouldn’t we work with historically black colleges and play them?” he told SB Nation back in 2018. “Take a school like Grambling or Howard vs. Princeton or Columbia or whoever. You’re gonna hit a huge number on TV, and you’re gonna sell it out in Atlanta or New Orleans or Washington D.C. Why wouldn’t we want to bring more attention?”