Column: HBCU Bands offer exposure that HBCU sports doesn’t need

(Erin Mizelle photo)

Forty or fifty years ago, Southern against Georgia might have been a good matchup on the football field. When the two teams enter Sanford Stadium on Saturday, there will be no contest on the field.

Georgia will be looking to get an easy win and keep its team healthy as it readies itself for SEC play. Southern will be looking to keep its key players from being hurt in a game it has no chance to win and cash the $650,000 check it is owed for its services.

Those services include a halftime performance by Southern’s Human Jukebox Marching Band that was built-in to the contract signed between the two schools.

“Normally a stipulation for visiting band attendance is not included in game contracts,” Georgia spokesman Claude Felton told ESPN. “However, the Southern University band is nationally known for its performing excellence and will provide a unique entertainment experience for our fans.”

This is what black college football has come to in the eyes of the world at large—a high-stepping marching band and a blowout loss to a major program.

“Even though we’re known around the nation for being the best, I still think we’re probably the best-kept secret,” Nathan Haymer, Southern’s director of bands, said. “I really don’t think Georgia understands what’s coming to them because they’re focused on the football game. I’m not going to be politically correct, it’s not going to be much of a game, but halftime is where the action is going to be.”

Make no mistake about it—these games are not restricted to Southern, the SWAC or HBCUs as a whole. Money Games, FBS vs. FCS games specifically, are a part of the landscape of college football. They have their purpose. They allow bigger programs to get an easy win, and they allow smaller programs to pay the price of maintaining their athletic departments.

The question is, are all Money Games equal? And the answer is, in the words of the Winans Brothers, “no, no, no, no, no…”

When HBCUs play these games against FBS schools, they not only have to deal with challenge of being faced with an overmatched opponent, they are also fighting an additional battle that FCS schools do not have worry about. They have to combat the perception that their schools either aren’t serious about athletics or even worse, cannot compete with PWI institutions as a whole. 

Many people within the schools that participate in those games will trump the “exposure” card. But what exactly are we exposing? The fact is, as FCS teams, HBCUs can only offer 63 scholarships, and compared to the 85 FBS teams can offer. And many of them aren’t even close to the max at that level.

Those structural differences make sense to those who know the business of college football. But to the student-athletes that we hope to recruit, they don’t mean much. All they see is a “black school” with black athletes losing to a bigger school with black athletes. Given a choice between the two programs, who do you think they are going to choose?

As Felton said, the stipulation for bringing a band for a visitor is out of the ordinary. The fact is, if folks knew Southern’s band wasn’t coming, a lot of them probably wouldn’t end up coming and it would lose out on ticket sales.

Do you think Ohio State would have paid FAMU almost a million dollars two years ago if they would have known that the famed Marching 100 wouldn’t be there? You’d have a hard time convincing me or anyone else, especially after the acknowledgement that bringing the band was a part of the deal.

Don’t believe me? Just try to get a six figure deal to come to an FBS school and tell them you are leaving your band at home. Let me know how that works out.

Look, I love our marching bands as much as anyone else. They are great brand ambassadors for our schools, but it has become painfully obvious that their value supremely outweighs the value of the black college football’s on-the-field product. For some, that’s fine, but for those who care about what actually happens on the field, it’s just a sad reality.

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