Yesterday morning, ESPN announced a partnership with two historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) Division I FCS Football Conferences, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC).
The inaugural Celebration Bowl will be played on Dec. 19 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. ESPN will broadcast the game.
The MEAC would send its champion to “bowl game” and force the conference to relinquish its auto-bid to the FCS playoffs. The SWAC has opted out of the playoffs since 1999 when the SWAC Championship became the final game of the season for the conference’s top-two teams. Coincidentally, the last time a MEAC team won an FCS Playoff game was in 1999 when North Carolina A&T defeated Tennessee State, 24-10. While the champion is obligated to play in the bowl game, any MEAC team receiving an at-large bid would still be able to play in the playoffs
Now that you have the facts, I’ll lace you with my opinion.
I can’t get with this, AT ALL. Most universities, ADs, coaches, players, alums, and fans take pride in their schools measuring up against competition, HBCU or not. I feel the Celebration Bowl segregates HBCUs simply because we’re not up to snuff against our FCS counterparts. Quite frankly, opting for this bowl game is a weak ass, defeatist cop-out. A reported $1 million payout per conference, which equals to $100K for the ten team SWAC and nearly $77K for the 13 team MEAC, won’t single-handedly buttress the struggling athletic departments of the participating schools.
I’ve read Twitter and various message boards and the opinion is mixed. Some alums are all for it, due to the lack of success in the playoffs, while others point to the failed Heritage Bowl of the 1990s as evidence of a possible repeat scenario. I’ll just assume a close look at the factors that befell that bowl will be taken into account for the Celebration Bowl.
I understand, most first-round FCS playoff matchups may be a long drive or expensive plane ride away from MEAC schools and their fans, but how can you build a solid program if you’re not competing against the best talent? The MEAC is coming off a season where five teams tied for a conference championship. The conference is obviously at strong point in its history, why stop a good thing?
I also think about how this affects the recruiting trail, how can coaches effectively recruit top tier athletes and sell them on playing for their schools when all they’re gunning for is an HBCU championship? It’s 2015, not 1965 when most top black athletes almost exclusively played for HBCUs. The talent pool is wide-ranging and an FCS Championship is what our schools should have their eyes set on.
I’m a fan and will always be a fan of HBCUs and their athletic programs, but in the end, the advent of The Celebration Bowl will only erode the quality of Division I HBCU football.