IRVING, Texas (Nov. 7, 2023) – The National Football Foundation (NFF) & College Hall of Fame announced today that legendary play-by-play announcer Charlie Neal, who covered games at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) since 1980, will be the recipient of the 2023 NFF Chris Schenkel Award. He will officially be honored Dec. 5 during the 65th NFF Annual Awards Dinner Presented by Las Vegas at the ARIA Resort & Casino.
“Charlie Neal is a true pioneer who broke new ground with BET in the 1980s and who went to simply become the voice of HBCU sports for the next four decades,” said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. “His rich, deep voice, coupled with passion for the backstory, has captivated fans as he engaged them from the broadcast booth with his entertaining insights and memorable calls. We are pleased to honor him with the 2023 NFF Chris Schenkel Award in recognition of his distinguished career.”
First presented in 1996, the award recognizes individuals who have had long, distinguished careers broadcasting college football with direct ties to a specific university or platform. The award is named in honor of its inaugural recipient Chris Schenkel, the longtime ABC Sports broadcaster who emceed the NFF Annual Awards Dinner for 28 consecutive years from 1968 to 1995.
“It’s truly an honor to receive this prestigious award named after a man I listened to growing up and admired for his ability to call a variety of sporting events,” said Neal, “I’d like to thank those who recognize my work by presenting me with this accolade. And this award actually belongs to the numerous coaches and athletes who gave me the platform to tell their stories.”
Dennis Thomas, who played and coached at Alcorn State and went to coach at South Carolina State before becoming the athletics director at Hampton and the commissioner of Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), became an admirer of Neal’s in the 1980s and hired him to cover several MEAC events and recommended him to ESPN.
“There is nobody in America who knows more about HBCU athletic history than Charlie Neal, and he’s one of the best broadcasters, period,” said Thomas. “Charlie is the best of the best, and I call him the ‘Golden Voice’ because he has a broadcaster’s voice…. He’s always done his homework and treated people fairly as the consummate professional. He gives the fan, the audience, the consumer relevant information, painting a magnificent picture. He just tells a tremendous story.”
Currently, the lead play-by-play announcer for HBCU-GO TV Sports, Charlie Neal started his broadcast career as a radio disc jockey in his hometown of Philadelphia, Pa. He broke into television as a sports anchor in Washington D.C. in 1971 for WRC-TV (NBC). From there he worked in Philadelphia, Detroit, and New York City. While working in Detroit, he met Bob Johnson, who was in the process of starting Black Entertainment Television (BET).
Starting as a play-by-play announcer in an industry that rarely tapped Black talent for the lead broadcaster role, Neal joined BET in 1980 and during the next 24 years he became the voice of sports on the network. In addition to black college athletics, BET carried talk shows and coverage of all major sporting events, from Heavyweight Championship boxing to the Superbowl. Neal’s efforts would help turn BET into a showcase for athletics at historically Black college and universities, which did not receive coverage on the other platforms at the time.
Johnson also made Neal the executive producer for sports at BET as the only announcer who was also responsible for putting together the football schedule. When Johnson sold BET to Viacom in 2001, making him the nation’s first Black billionaire, he said: “BET and myself owe a lot to Charlie Neal.”
Neal picked Lem Barney, the cornerback at Jackson State and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, to join him in the football broadcast booth, and the two became a magic combination for fans. Neal and Barney would remain broadcast partners for 23 years, one of the longest partnerships in broadcast history, and people would come to cite Neal as the Al Michaels and Howard Cosell of Black college sports.
Neal and Barney covered numerous College Football Hall of Fame coaches and players, including Eddie Robinson, Marino Casem, Willie Jeffries, Billy Joe, W.C. Gorden and Doug Porter. They were in the broadcast booth when Robinson broke Bear Bryant‘s all-time record of 323 wins in 1985. Hall of Fame players covered by the duo included Mississippi Valley State’s Jerry Rice and Willie Totten, Alcorn State’s Steve McNair, and Grambling’s Doug Williams who would join them in the BET broadcast booth for the 1990 season. The two were in the broadcast booth for numerous Bayou Classics, and they helped set the stage for the fabled HBCU battle of the bands that would take place each week during halftime.
Neal also worked for CBS Sports announcing college football, basketball, track & field, and gymnastics. Neal continued to cover sports for BET while also doubling up with assignments from Turner Sports which included the first ever Goodwill Games in Moscow. He hosted the NBA halftime shows for TNT along with play-by play assignments on basketball, gymnastics, and track & field.
When BET decided to drop sports from its programming, the timing seemed right, as ESPNU was being launched, and he immediately landed a position with the World-Wide Leader. Neal actually broadcast the first-ever football game on ESPNU in 2005, coincidentally an HBCU game between Morehouse (GA) and Benedict (SC). He has handled numerous assignments for the network, including a wide range of traditional sports.
He has been a fixture for the past decade at the MEAC Basketball Tournament, announcing both the women and men’s first round, quarterfinal and semifinal contests, along with hosting the MEAC Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
For the last two seasons, Neal co-hosted MEAC Countdown to Kickoff, presented by Coca-Cola, on the MEAC Digital Network. He serves as the lead play-by-play announcer for HBCU-GO TV Sports, a free-streaming service launched in 2012 and bought by the Allen Media Group in 2021. Last year, HBCU-GO carried 12 football with 23 football games on tap this season along with expanding slate of basketball games as well.
Neal has been recognized for his contribution to black college athletics by being inducted into the MEAC, CIAA and Black College Football halls of fame. He currently serves as chairman of the selection committee for the Black College Football Hall of Fame.
Neal becomes the first NFF Chris Schenkel Award recipient from the HBCU ranks. He will be honored during the 65th NFF Annual Awards Dinner Presented by Las Vegas on Dec. 5 alongside the recipients of the other NFF Major Awards, including College Football Playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock (NFF Outstanding Contribution to Amateur Football Award), BYU Athletes Directory Tom Holmoe (NFF John L. Toner Award for excellence in athletics administration), American Football Coaches Association Executive Director Todd Berry (NFF Legacy Award)., NFF Campbell Trophy Summit Chairman Mark Flynn (NFF Legacy Award)., and Atlanta Hall Management Chairman A.J. Robinson (NFF Legacy Award).
In addition to the presentation of the NFF Major Awards, the 65th NFF Annual Awards Dinner Presented by Las Vegas will provide the stage for the induction of the 2023 College Football Hall of Fame Class; the presentation of the 2023 NFF National Scholar-Athlete Awards Presented by Fidelity Investments; and the bestowing of the 34th William V. Campbell Trophy® to the nation’s top football scholar-athlete.
For more information on the 64th NFF Annual Awards Dinner Presented by Las Vegas, including how to register for tickets, please visit https://footballfoundation.org/feature/NFF2023.
NFF Chris Schenkel Award Recipients:
1996 — Chris Schenkel (ABC Sports)
1997 — Jack Cristil (Mississippi State)
1998 — Max Falkenstein (Kansas)
1999 — Jack Fleming (West Virginia)
2000 — Ray Christensen (Minnesota)
2001 — Frank Fallon (Baylor)
2002 — Bob Brooks (Iowa)
2003 — Larry Munson (Georgia)
2004 — Bob Robertson (Washington State)
2005 — Tony Roberts (Notre Dame)
2006 — Johnny Holliday (Maryland)
2007 — Bill Hillgrove (Pittsburgh)
2008 — Bob Curtis (Idaho) and Dick Galiette (Yale)
2009 — Larry Zimmer (Colorado)
2010 — Joe Starkey (California)
2011 — Woody Durham (North Carolina)
2012 — Bob Barry Sr. (Oklahoma)
2013 — Gene Deckerhoff (Florida State)
2014 — Frank Beckmann (Michigan)
2015 — Jim Hawthorne (LSU)
2016 — Bob Rondeau (Washington)
2017 — Jon Teicher (UTEP)
2018 — Dave South (Texas A&M)
2019 — Eli Gold (Alabama)
2020 — Dave Walsh (Wyoming)
2022 — Don Fischer (Indiana)
2023 — Charlie Neal (HBCU/MEAC)