This column originally appeared on HBCU Digest
|Back in the ’90s, players like Steve McNair shined a bright light on the SWAC. (Sports Fan Journal photo)|
Gather ’round, kiddies, and let me tell you a story about the Old West. The Southwest Athletic Conference to be exact. It was the cream of the rich Black College Football crop, churning out first round draft picks and Hall-of-Famers like like gin-and-juice at a fish fry. There was Sweetness from Jackson State, a kid named Rice from Mississippi Valley and a quarterback who threw a ball so pretty, they just called the guy “Air.”
Okay, that was a little over the top, but you get the picture. From the days of all-white SEC teams all the way until the 1990s, the SWAC was head of the class as far as HBCU football went. Eddie Robinson’s Grambling machine dominated the headlines, but even schools like Texas Southern and Mississippi Valley had talent in abundance.
Looking at all of that glorious history makes it even harder to watch what SWAC football has become. Since the turn of the century, the SWAC has seen its football stock fall dramatically. Early this September, an editorial on Foxnews.com called the SWAC out for its lackluster performance, stating that it makes the right decision to not participate in the FCS championships.
“There’s too much to gain financially by staging a conference championship and too much to lose by trying to beat other FCS opponents in what inevitably would be first-round defeats year after year.”
As harsh as that sounds, it seems to be on the money. Heading into college football’s fourth week, the SWAC has yet to beat a non-conference Division I school. In fact, three teams in the SWAC (Alabama A&M, Mississippi Valley State and Grambling) have lost to Division II teams this season. And not only is the conference winless against Division I opponents, most of the games haven’t been close. Defending champion UAPB was outscored 120-25 in its first two games of 2013.
I know one thing if u attend a school in the SWAC conference THE WORD FOOTBALL shouldn’t even come out ur mouth…more like JV football
— CrownRHOyal Black (@Isthat_Megan) September 7, 2013
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Many blame the conference’s decision to forgo the FCS playoffs in favorite of a SWAC Championship Game as the primary reason for its descent. And while it is undoubtedly a part of the problem, it isn’t the only factor holding the SWAC back.
Who catches a punt inside the 10 yard line? Smh that’s why I can’t watch SWAC football
— Pullupinthatnewrarri (@ImGoinScottie) September 8, 2013
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Earlier this year, USA Today released a database showing how much Division I athletic programs make and the results were not good for the conference. Five of the 10 with the lowest revenue were SWAC members, including MSVS at just over $4 million. Only Alabama State’s revenue topped the $10 million mark.
Another contributing factor is mismanagement of the programs, particularly at the head coaching position. Take Grambling for example. Other than Doug Williams first coaching stint at his alma mater, the program hasn’t had much luck with coaches, firing Melvin Spears and letting Rod Broadway move to NC A&T.
Now to be fair, there are some good things going on in SWAC football. Alabama State has a sparkling new stadium that was rumored to be in the running for a national bowl game earlier this year. Several schools have improved their APR rankings, and been released from NCAA postseason purgatory. And programs like Prairie View and Southern appear to be on their way up.
Still, we need more from SWAC football. When SWAC football is strong, HBCU football is better for it. While it will likely never produce pro players and powerhouse teams as it did in pre-integration, it still has the potential for so much more than it currently is-the bottom level of FCS football. The conference didn’t get to where it is overnight, and it won’t be an easy fix, but something needs to be done ASAP.