I was the school advisory chair at the middle school where my sons and daughters attended and as such was vested in any and everything that promoted learning and gave the school a positive image. I recall my twin boys competing with their friends in the middle school Black Brain Bowl. It was a special program run through a college grant and no the college was not an HBCU. Though humorous at times to watch, it was pleasing to see the boys practicing in preparation for the brain bowl event.
Every middle school in the county was involved and the group of contestants were diverse. To give an idea of what the program was about, one of the questions asked was “who was the football player seen running across the airport to catch a plane in a TV commercial.” The answer was O.J. Simpson.
When it was all said and done my sons’ middle school team made up of all black males brought home the first place trophy. Reporting back to the school I was excited and proud, that is until the school principal gave me that look. She really cared about these kids, but didn’t have the heart to celebrate much about the victory.
At that point the O.J. question completely registered as did the event. This was not a scholarly event in as much as it was a social interlude. While black history and self-identity are both extremely important, this was an aside and not a main stream event. It made some blacks proud while allowing others to take the lead during a public event and make a little cash on the side. Otherwise, it did little to educate or advance those involved. It certainly wasn’t a true reflection of black history or these kid’s education.
When the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and the Southwestern Athletic Conference clash in the inaugural Celebration Bowl it will likely be a grand event. How can it not be when it is advertised right alongside the Division 1 FBS bowl games and is getting more attention than the Division 1 FCS playoffs? It will be another chance for black folks to showcase their ability to gather and have a good time. We can twitter about who is the best in black college football, who has the best band, and maybe hold bragging rights for a year. We do this at every HBCU football classic. Perhaps most important is that each conference and school in the conference will receive a payout and both conferences will receive national recognition through this televised event.
While the Celebration Bowl is being staged the Division 1 FBS bowls are prepping to take the air. They know and accept that they are runners up to the championship bowl games that will be played in the new year. Each of these teams will receive a hefty paycheck and their time on national TV. Meanwhile, the Division 1 FCS playoffs will continue without the MEAC and SWAC. Certainly this MEAC versus SWAC game does not represent in whole the quality of their programs nor their ability to compete with the best.
I am not against having a Division 1 FCS bowl game. In fact, there should be multiple Division 1 FCS bowl games like the Celebration Bowl for the better teams in the FCS division who don’t make the playoff. Too, just like Division 1 FBS, the playoff games should be bowl games with paychecks for the teams and conferences commensurate with the entertainment. It is after all entertainment and a last chance for scouts to see potential NFL players perform against each other. The schools and the players deserve this.
There are those who will oppose the Celebration Bowl because they see it as another entitlement for blacks. Something given, but unearned and undeserved. Others will oppose the Celebration Bowl because the MEAC and SWAC are giving up their chance to compete for a national championship in favor of a (much needed) pay check and the addition of another season ending HBCU classic.
Sadly, the money earned from this single bowl appearance is desperately needed by both conferences. I could name teams in each conference that cannot afford shoes and shoulder pads for their players, let alone travel costs or new team uniforms. Yet, to compete all year to be the best and not have a chance at the end of the season to prove it, changes any momentum gained from winning.
Maybe it is time for schools that can afford to complete at the Division 1 level to emerge from the MEAC and SWAC to form a conference more suited to pursing national championships. The other schools should be honest about their fortunes and move to the Division II level where they might prosper and regain the momentum and school pride of champions. There is no shame in being Division II national champions, or doing what you can afford. There is prosperity for working class people in working class neighborhoods without having to try to live above your means and never succeed.
Play in games, money games, and now our very own HBCU bowl game. In the end the teams in the MEAC and SWAC will continue to struggle to complete and be inclusive among the haves and have nots in these conferences. The MEAC and SWAC can drown in the short lived competition to be the best HBCU, or make the hard decisions that will send their programs in a forward direction toward a greater recognition that is deservedly second to none.