Al-Tony Gilmore is this week's guest author.
"For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes --- not that you won or lost --but how you played the game," wrote legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice in his famous poem, "Alumnus Football."
Those words have lingered in sports culture for generations, and have come to embody the ideal of athletic competition as a source for building character, promoting dignity, defining sportsmanship, and promoting courage. These universal virtues are core American values, though they have virtually evaporated, losing all meaning for college and professional sports. Money and the pursuit of more money have become the driving force behind all sports, especially college football. Winning might breed character, but it definitely sells tickets, secures lucrative television contracts, attracts wealthy corporate sponsors, lines the pockets of sports administrators, and pleases alumni and fans. The financial rewards from winning help schools build the best athletic facilities and recruit the best coaches and athletes.
The football and athletic programs of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are outside of that paradigm. Many are struggling to survive -- though as a whole they consistently produce a disproportionate share of Black leaders and college graduates -- and align their resources with the valued priorities of sustaining quality and competitive academic programs. The better schools remain strong academic institutions but, for all HBCUs, sports programs are difficult to operate under such circumstances. The combination of integration and aggressive recruiting tactics by predominately white schools have drained them of the monopoly on the best Black athletes they once enjoyed. And with that exodus, the resources and cash flow of their athletic programs are inadequate for competing in the money market of major college football.
One controversial remedy for generating revenue is the practice of scheduling "money games." These money games are those that HBCUs schedule with teams from power conferences -- whose coaches, athletes, and facilities are superior -- who want an easy win, and are willing to pay for it. This season, for example, South Carolina State lost to Clemson, 59 - 0, but received a check for $300,000; Delaware State to Missouri, 79-0 ($550,000) Prairie View lost to Texas A&M, 67-0 ($450,000); Howard lost at Maryland 52-13 ($350,000); and the next week at Rutgers, 52-14 ($350,000); and for similar amounts Morgan lost to Marshall 62-0, North Carolina Central to Duke 49-0; Florida A&M to Miami, 70-3; Hampton to Old Dominion 54-21; Savannah State to Georgia Southern, 54-0 and to Southern Mississippi, 56-0 -- and on and on, year after year, for close to a decade. Between 2011-2015, according to one sports researcher, the average money game score was 55-8. In most of the games, the HBCU team did not score, make a first down, or force the opponent to punt. The gladiators of Rome had better odds against the lions, than does a HBCU in competition with a major football program. In some of the games, the margin is so large at halftime, that a mercy rule is invoked, allowing for a shortened second half, a rule used almost exclusively in elementary schools to spare humiliation and emphasize sportsmanship. In other words, the money game scores are often misleading. They could be worse.
Athletic directors and coaches at cash-strapped HBCUs that participate in the money games seem oblivious to the severe pain, shame and ridicule these games inflict on their schools and alumni. Some argue that the money games provide exposure for their players, who otherwise would not be seen by NFL scouts. There is no evidence to support those claims. To the contrary, because of the one-sided nature of the competition and scores, not a single player in a money game has ever performed to a level that has impressed an NFL scout, and not a single HBCU head coach or athletic director has been offered a similar position at a major school. By comparison, the HBCUs are categorized by the NCAA as FCS Division I (Football Championship Subdivision) and represent 22 of 125 small programs. The FBS Division I (Football Bowl Subdivision) is the category of the power football programs, representing 128 schools. Last year, in a game with Georgia, a Southern University player suffered a spinal injury and was paralyzed from the waist down. To the credit of Georgia, it assumed the medical expenses of the player but, to the shame of the NCAA, the games continue. With no encouragement from the NCAA, a growing number of FBS schools no longer schedule football games with HBCUs, preferring to schedule lower rung FBS teams.
The abundant and celebrated history of Black college football -- dating back to the first game in 1892 between Livingstone and Biddle -- has been tarnished by the money games. From the age of segregation through the 1960s, HBCU sports actually gained advantages from segregation. Crowds packed Black stadiums and Black media closely followed annual rivalries such as Lincoln-Howard, Tuskegee-Wilberforce, North Carolina College - North Carolina A&T, and popular games and social events like the Orange Blossom, Capitol, and Prairie View classics. It was a time when the most important All-American football team for Black people was that of the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper and, more important, a time when most student athletes at HBCUs actually graduated, with a significant number advancing to the ranks of professional football. There are 28 HBCU alumni in the NFL Hall of Fame, and 17 former players and nine coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame. None ever played or coached in a money game.
The conversation about the money games that no one places on the table is the race card. The games supplement negative stereotypes and aggravate false notions of HBCU and Black ineptitude. Played before television audiences and stadium crowds upwards of 75,000 -- mostly whites who have never set feet on a Black college campus -- many surmise both consciously and subliminally that the HBCU players and coaches are inferior, and by proxy their schools as well. All of this obscures the truth that the White coaches are better, but only because they have the most talented Black and White players, and HBCUs have none -- nothing more and nothing less. There are metrics to measure the impact of the payouts on the athletic budgets of HBCUs, but none that measure the shame, disgrace and humiliation these games inflict on the souls of Black people, or the HBCU institutional integrity that they compromise.
When Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote "money often costs too much," it is certain he did not have football in mind, though promoters of these games should take heed to his sage advice. When balanced on calibrated scales, the games do more harm than good. They should be stopped.
Al-Tony Gilmore is an author and Historian Emeritus of the National Education Association. He has published and lectured extensively on social and sports history. His books include, "Bad Nigger: The National Impact of Jack Johnson." He recently wrote the introduction to the reissued classic, "The Negro in Sports" by Edwin Bancroft Henderson, which is featured in the sports section of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Dr. Gilmore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Eric J. Cooper is the founder and president of the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education, a nonprofit professional development organization that provides student-focused professional development, advocacy and organizational guidance to accelerate student achievement. He can be reached at email@example.com. He tweets as @ECooper4556.