Grambling Fallout: Would D2 Drop Fix HBCU Athletics

Winston-Salem State has experienced success at the Division II level after leaving Division I in 2009. (WSSU photo)

A week after Grambling State was forfeited its game to Jackson State due to a player revolt, the reverberations are still being felt. The Grambling drama shined a light not only on the school, but both small-school and HBCU athletics as a whole. Professor Aaron N. Taylor called for Division I HBCUs to drop down to Divison II in an essay on Inside Higher Ed. 

Taylor cites the Grambling incident as the latest case of a school living beyond its means to maintain Division I classification.

“In order to survive, under-resourced colleges must adopt substantive reforms that transcend short-term stopgaps. One of the most significant reforms would be leaving Division I for Division II. Such a drop would be a considered an insult at many institutions, but it could be a particularly attractive and necessary option for HBCUs.

Division I sports, even at the second-tier Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level at which HBCUs play, are expensive. FCS schools are required to sponsor at least 14 varsity sports. The vast majority of these sports will net no revenue. It should be no surprise that no FCS athletic program, HBCU or not, turns a profit — and the programs that break even do so only after large institutional subsidies as high as 90 percent. In 2010, the median revenue for FCS institutions was $3.3 million against expenses of more than $13 million.”

Taylor used Winston-Salem State as an example of a university dropping down to Division I and thriving.

“In 2009, WSSU became the first school in NCAA history to return to Division II after beginning the transition up to Division I. Citing “no rational way” of funding the transition, university officials aborted the plan after four years. Three years later, WSSU played in the Division II national championship game and was able to balance its athletics budget, even though it is contending with state disinvestment and still paying down deficits from its Division I foray. WSSU is ranked 16th in attendance, so while the move back down to Division II may have disappointed some, its fans have not abandoned the program.”

This is a pretty touchy subject among sports fans at HBCUs. Taylor isn’t the first to suggest this, and he won’t be the last. But in the wake of  what has taken place at Grambling, don’t be suprised if you hear those voices get louder.

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