North Carolina A&T football is 0-3 for the second year in a row, and its slow start has fans and former players venting online.
Former NC A&T star Jah-Maine Martin took to X/Twitter on Sunday to voice his frustration with the program he was a part of from 2018 through 2021. Martin cited the program leaving conferences — departing from the MEAC in 2021 and the Big South in 2022 — under Director of Athletics Earl Hilton.
“It started with the AD Earl changing conferences just for money not thinking about the culture, I feel like he sold us out,” Martin tweeted on Sunday.
Martin went on to express other points of contention with the direction of the program, including a reduction in games against HBCU opponents.
“Let me explain something the schedule does matter HBCU rivalries are REAL!!,” Martin tweeted. “Students used to be arguing wit other schools, the bands used to have smoke, the teams used to have smoke it was REAL TENSION in the air on Saturdays y’all are just in denial right now.”
North Carolina A&T has maintained its rivalry with North Carolina Central since departing the MEAC prior to the 2021 season. That contract currently runs through the end of this decade. Other former MEAC rivals South Carolina State and Norfolk State, located in bordering states, will have played A&T twice in the three seasons since its departure from the league while Hampton University will be a permanent fixture on the A&T schedule as both HBCUs are in the Coastal Athletic Association.
HBCU Gameday has reached out to Hilton for comment regarding Martin’s statements.
State of North Carolina A&T athletics is a group effort
Hilton has been the Director of Athletics at A&T since 2010 and since then has been a major part of the re-shaping of North Carolina A&T. He brought in Rod Broadway as head coach and spearheaded an effort to get the university off of APR probation after years of trouble with the NCAA, paving the way for the program to win four of the first five Celebration Bowls. He has also been the AD as A&T left the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference 50 years after helping found it.
However, the final decision to move the school’s athletic affiliation is above his pay grade. Those decisions required and received the approval of Chancellor Dr. Harold L. Martin and the school’s Board of Trustees.
Hilton also oversaw the firing of Sam Washington, who Martin played for at A&T. The move was widely criticized in many HBCU circles as Washington had a winning record in three of his four seasons and won back-to-back MEAC titles and Celebration Bowls. However, sources indicate that wins and losses weren’t all that factored into the move.
But wins and losses are all that are on the minds of many in Greensboro right now as A&T is undergoing a hard reset under first-year head coach Vincent Brown. The program lost several key players to the transfer portal, including linebacker Jacob Roberts who won Walter Camp Defensive Player of The Year honors down the road at Wake Forest.
North Carolina A&T is the nation’s largest HBCU and one of the better-funded ones in all of the country. It has witnessed tremendous ascension over the past few decades under the leadership of Harold L. Martin, but that comes with a cost that is measured in change as well as dollars and cents. Everything it does is a business and branding move, and that includes football.
Back in 2019 when Martin was gashing defenses in and out of the MEAC, Martin began floating the idea of a possible move to the Football Bowl Subdivision, the highest division of NCAA football. There was no specific timetable on it yet and a lot has changed, but it was clear then that change would be coming in some way, shape or form.
“I’m not going to say it won’t happen someday,” Hilton said in 2019. “There’s nothing formally in place to discuss it right now. There’s no timeline. But it’s an exercise to talk about what transformative would look like in A&T athletics.”
Looking at the product on the field compared to where A&T football stood back in 2019 it’s hard to view one touchdown in three games and an 0-3 record as a positive ‘transformation.’ However, the A&T football program has seen bleaker times before as the 27-game losing streak and NCAA probation that preceded Hilton and Martin were much more serious problems than the current record.
If we’re being honest, the lackluster record is just the tip of the iceberg for former student-athletes, alumni and HBCU supporters who have been feeling less than comfortable with the direction of the program since that day in Feb. 2021 where Dr. Martin stood with Hilton and Big South leadership announcing its departure from the MEAC. There are many who long for the good old days when (insert MEAC team north of Washington, D.C. or south of Orangeburg, SC) helped halfway fill up Aggie Stadium in late October and early November.
Sarcasm aside, its great to see folks passionate about their HBCU football program and not accepting less than mediocrity. As a player who put his body on the line in a blue and gold uniform, Martin has a right to voice his opinion on the current state of affairs. And he’s giving the program until GHOE to get it done. That’s more than can be said for many fans.
Change is rarely easy and almost never pretty. And right now it’s testing that ‘Ole Aggie Spirit in ways it has never been tested before.