Bethune-Cookman football is now in a place where no one wants to be. It is dead last in the SWAC East division, hasn’t won a game this year in six tries, and it is 0-3 in its initial year of the SWAC after Saturday’s homecoming loss to Mississippi Valley State. There may never have been a lower point for Bethune-Cookman football — in recent memory.
However, if anyone thinks it is simply the X’s and O’s that Terry Sims and his staff are calling, it is a disservice.
B-CU set itself up for this losing skid long before the first ball was kicked this season. Sweeping changes and cuts to athletics puts just a shell of the Wildcats we’ve known on the playing field each Saturday.
Vanessa Blair’s exit was the first telling sign
Former four-time MEAC Coach of the Year Vanessa Blair-Lewis’ sudden exit was the first brick to fall in the foundation of B-CU Athletics. The personable and excellent coach loved being at B-CU because of its family atmosphere. She made the statement several times. This April, she took the head women’s coaching job at George Mason. While initially it appeared that moving back to her hometown was a no-brainer, the love she exuded for B-CU in interviews over the years still left questions.
Thompson’s exit rocked the whole foundation
Lynn Thompson was the longest serving NCAA Division I director of athletics at 31 years. He was elevated to Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics at B-CU. His sudden departure from B-CU literally shocked the entire HBCU world and the NCAA in general. Earning NACDA athletics director of the year, Thompson was a staple in intercollegiate athletics.
Since playing for the Wildcats as a football player in the late 1970’s, Thompson returned to Daytona Beach and took the helm of the department of athletics. He was reared by Tank Johnson and endorsed by great B-CU President Oswald Bronson, Ph.D. The young Thompson took over the department at the age of 33.
Under Thompson, B-CC would transition to B-CU and so did the image. Thompson’s branding of B-CU took the school to heights unseen. He partnered the Marching Wildcats with the overall imaging of the school and the “Little church school” in Daytona Beach became cool. Applications to the university increased dramatically. Even a never seen streak of nine consecutive wins against arch-rival FAMU was where the Wildcats left off in 2019.
Institutional reductions gutted the program
The institution had its own core issues that it was dealing with. It had to make drastic changes to fill a multi-million dollar financial gap in order to retain its accreditation with SACS. The school was on probation and other sanctions were on the horizon if significant changes were not made. Many of these issues pointed directly to the tenure of B-CU president Edison Jackson, Ph.D.
Along with the much-publicized failed dorm deal and lawsuit by Wells Fargo, the embarrassment of having Education Secretary Betsy Devos speak at a highly-protested graduation and the loss of accreditation, Jackson’s tenure is shrouded in a cloud of uncertainty as lawsuits and investigations into his tenure came to light in the accreditation process.
Bethune-Cookman BOT took control of rebuilding
Belvin Perry is the chairman of the B-CU Board of Trustees. His business experience dictated to him and the entire board that drastic measures had to ensue to ensure the longevity of the university. Sweeping budget cuts, policies and procedures to solidify the financial stability included unconventional methods.
Scholarship and employment took a major hit
All major members of the athletics department leadership were terminated. Included in the terminations was one of the most highly-respect women’s administrators in the NCAA, Sandra Booker.
Scott Armstrong, also highly-respected in intercollegiate athletics as the head trainer of Bethune-Cookman was let go during the sweep. Armstrong was best known for building one of the best sports medicine teams in the country at B-CU. He was a brilliant leader with both a medical degree and a law degree.
Athletics had to take a four month furlough; football had eight months
Probaby nothing was more damaging than the mandatory athletic department furloughs. FOUR MONTHS! Coaches could not come to campus, athletes could nit work out under supervision…basically, the department was gutted and vacant for four months. UNPAID. In addition, remaining staff and coaches had to take pay cuts in the new budget.
Football, however, was furloughed from November 2020 to July 2021! That makes over eight full months.
The deep cuts
On top of the time off, budgets were slashed. According to sources, more than $1.3 million was cut from football scholarships and $700,000 from the Marching Wildcats. These numbers affect recruiting, scholarships, travel, equipment and all aspects of a program. Sims began to have turnover in his staff. The athletics department was faced with a 20-25 percent overall budget reduction.
Sims took over Bethune-Cookman in 2015. In 2016 he had his first and only losing season. B-CU finished 2nd place in the MEAC the following two seasons. He had a 34-21 record before the season, that currently sits at 34-27. Before the season he had a .618 winning percentage. At this pace, he will be under .500 for the first time in his career.
Right on cue, calls for his head are getting louder. Especially with the loss at homecoming. However, some thought must be taken into the impossible hurdles B-CU took to get to this point.