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Part I: The long, complicated history of choosing an HBCU national champion

For nearly 100 years, the Black Press has picked Black College Football National Champions. It hasn’t always been easy, or clear-cut.

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By Brian Simpkins

The 2020 season will mark 100 years of awarding the HBCU Football National Championship. This statistic reflects the importance of Black media outlets and the history of Black college football. Twenty-eight years after Biddle University (now Johnson C Smith University) and Livingstone College faced off in the first HBCU football game, one of the largest Black newspapers in the United States awarded the inaugural HBCU grid titles.

The Pittsburgh Courier (1920-66) crowned 7-0 Howard University and 6-0 Talladega College best in the nation. From 1920 to the present day, integrated polls (HBCUs of all levels and conferences) are utilized to determine champions. No other outlets challenged the Courier until 1924 when the CAAC (Champion Aggregation of All Conferences) awarded 7-1-1 Lincoln University (PA) the HBCU title. The CAAC (1924-49) was headlined by the father of Kentucky State University athletics, William Lawrence “Paul” Jones. The Howard Bison made Washington, DC the HBCU Football capital in the early 1920s while amassing four HBCU titles (1920, 1923, 1925-26).

More selector competition came in 1947 when the Baltimore Afro-American (1947-48, 1953) awarded the Midwestern Conference champion, 10-1 Tennessee A&I (now Tennessee State) Tigers their second national championship. The very next season the Associated Negro Press (1948-1960) from Chicago named the SWAC champion 12-0 Southern Jaguars their 1948 championship. This very same 1948 Southern team broke the (then) active record for most wins in a HBCU season. The previous record was held at 11 wins after the 1930 Tuskegee Golden Tigers (11-0-1 record) were voted champions by the Pittsburgh Courier.

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Part I: The long, complicated history of choosing an HBCU national champion
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