ATLANTA — SIAC Media Day served as the official unofficial kick-off to the NCAA HBCU football season on Wednesday, as it does pretty much every season. But it felt like the kickoff to a new era for the league under commissioner Dr. Anthony Holloman.
Holloman has officially been in charge since last September as the replacement for former commissioner Gregory Moore. But Wednesday’s media day was clearly the tone-setter for what Holloman wants his tenure over the second-oldest HBCU conference to be.
Holloman seemed to be everywhere in the College Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday. He was hands-on in the type of way that hasn’t been by a commissioner at a media day event in quite some time.
More SIAC teams in NCAA playoffs
The SIAC commissioner began his address by advocating for more conference participation in the NCAA playoffs.
Holloman says that was the key motivation for abolishing divisions following last season. The new format, announced following the 2022 season, will allow teams to play key rivals every year and see all other teams at least twice within a four-year period. The hope is that this will provide a competitive balance within the league.
“We had years where our top teams would not play each other. Championship games were pitting teams with immaculate records, with teams that had sub-500 records,” Holloman explained regarding the issue with the old system. “Now, that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be beat on a given day — but that did impact our ability to have teams move on to the playoffs. Now we’re in a position that we’re going to give the best teams in the SIAC the ability to advance in playoffs and we want to see our teams advance and compete for national championships.”
The league is also considering scheduling other matchups the same week as the SIAC Championship Game — Week 11 — in order to increase its chances of having multiple teams invited into the NCAA playoffs.
“The idea behind that is to give teams who have good records and have regional ranking the ability to keep that ranking as opposed to the last two years,” Holloman said. “We had Savannah State finish their season at 8-2 and drop out of the regional rankings. Last year we had Fort Valley State in the same situation and drop out to a team that played an extra game even though their record was not better than records of teams in our conference.”
Innovation in and out of the NCAA
Despite his desire for more teams in the NCAA playoffs, Holloman is open to other postseason playing options for member institutions. Tuskegee University is back in the Turkey Day Classic against Alabama State, which means it won’t be in the playoffs even if its record is good enough to get in.
“I don’t know that that’s for everybody in our league, but I think we have to have those tough discussions if it brings value to our institutions,” Hollowman said. “Because we have a responsibility to the student-athletes to create experiences that they can cherish and take with them as they leave their institutions.”
Less than a year into his tenure, Dr. Anthony Holloman is showing he isn’t afraid to fight for the SIAC within the NCAA. As reported by HBCU Gameday earlier this year, the NCAA declined the league’s request for a Week Zero game against the CIAA this August. Holloman is apparently still set on making it happen moving forward.
“The NCAA denied that waiver not one, but two times. So we are working with other D2 conferences to establish legislation that will give us that opportunity,” Holloman told the crowd. “Some conferences are motivated by having 12 weeks to play 11 games, which will give them weeks for byes. From the SIAC’s perspective, we would like to have the opportunity to play Week Zero, that would give us more television exposure.”
Television exposure continues to increase
The SIAC will have 22 football games on ESPN platforms this year, Holloman announced. That includes two games — the Red Tails Classic and a Thursday night game with Benedict College hosting Fort Valley State — on ESPNU. In addition to games on ESPN, the league will also have one game on CNBC, another on the NFL Network and a total of five on the HBCU Go platform, owned by Byron Allen.
“This speaks to the brand of the SIAC and our member institutions, the viability of the football that we play,” Holloman told the crowd. “We’ve led Division II in attendance 16 consecutive years. And so with that in mind, we have to figure out how to monetize our brain.”
Holloman’s opening address makes sense when you learn of his background, which is a somewhat unconventional mix of athletics and institutional advancement within higher education. Much of that includes experience in fundraising at institutions such as Tuskegee, South Carolina State and Jackson State.
While it’s still early in his tenure at the SIAC, it seems like Dr. Anthony Holloman is intent on increasing the bottom line along with exposure for the league’s institutions. The future appears bright, as long as the presidents of the league are willing to be as forward-thinking as their new commissioner.