NCAA rejects plan for Week Zero D2 HBCU football showcase

A proposal for a Week Zero game between the CIAA and SIAC was shot down by the NCAA. Here’s why.

The NCAA has reportedly turned down a proposal for a 2023 Week Zero game between 2022 champions of the two HBCU Div. II conferences, HBCU Gameday has learned.

The so-called “Week Zero” game, would have matched 2022 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) champion Benedict against 2022 Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) champion Fayetteville State.

The idea was hatched by longtime HBCU sportscaster Charlie Neal. He now does play-by-play for black college games produced by HBCUGo that air nationwide on TheGrio and other national cable outlets. Both TheGrio and HBCUGo are owned by media mogul Byron Allen.

Neal and execs at HBCUgo and TheGrio reportedly convinced SIAC Commissioner Anthony Holloman and CIAA Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams to float the concept to the NCAA. The network was hoping the carry the game on Saturday, August 26 of this year on Benedict’s campus in Columbia, S. C.

Fayetteville State wide receiver looks to catch the ball at the CIAA Championship Game.

Why did the NCAA turn the game down?

No Div. II conferences or teams have participated in Week Zero games. It appears that because there was no precedent for Div. II conferences playing Week Zero games, the SIAC/CIAA waiver was turned down by the NCAA.

HBCU Gameday reached out to the NCAA for confirmation and comment but had not heard back before publishing this story.

A source indicated that while the leagues are disappointed the game was unable to take place this year, there is hope for legislative relief. In other words, the game could be on for 2024.

NCAA Week Zero game history

Week Zero games originally referred to the opening weekend of college football games in the NCAA Div. I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). According to the Wikipedia entry on Week 0, “the NCAA has sporadically awarded waivers for games to be played a week earlier (than Week 1, on the Saturday before Labor Day) in order to bring a game to a national television audience.” The first Week 0 game was the 1983 Kickoff Classic. No. 1 Nebraska faced No. 4 Penn State at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N. J.

A waiver was sought by the SIAC and CIAA, representing two of the oldest Div. II conferences in the nation and the oldest of the four HBCU conferences in the NCAA.

Such games, based on their history, have been played between Div. I FBS or FCS programs. The Mid Eastern Athletics Conference (MEAC) and Southwestern Athletics Conference (SWAC), the two HBCU Div. I conferences, received a waiver and played the first MEAC/SWAC Challenge in 2005. That Week Zero game will have its 18th iteration this season.

Week Zero games making an impact and growing

Hero Sports says Week 0 games have become a big appetizer to the upcoming football seasons, focusing on teams that take the field first. The list of such games, its story said, has been growing and gives a quicker start to the season on our TVs.

For the 2023 season, ten Week 0 Div I games are scheduled for Saturday, August 26. Included among them is the match up of South Carolina State of the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and Jackson State of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) at the 18th MEAC/SWAC Challenge. Those same two teams met in the 2021 season-ending Celebration Bowl in Atlanta.

There were 11 Week 0 games on Saturday, August 27 in 2022.

Sources expect adjustments to be made in 2024 when Week One is scheduled to kick off post-Labor Day on September 8.

More HBCU cooperation in store?

Earlier this year, members of the four HBCU NCAA conferences announced they would be doing more to work together. Sources indicate one of the first attempts to make good on that pledge was trying to add the Div. II game to the early season menu.

The game would have been similar to the MEAC/SWAC Challenge. One distinction between the two showcase games is that the Division II version would feature the two defending champions. The SWAC and MEAC teams are selected years in advance. 

NCAA rejects plan for Week Zero D2 HBCU football showcase
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