HBCU Scoreboard IV: Let the Games Begin

By: G. Napier Barnes, III

FAMU football coach Jake Gaither talking to one of his players -Tallahassee-December 1953 (State Library and Archives of Florida)

The very first Black College Intercollegiate football game was played way back on December 27th 1892. The Livingstone College Blue Bears hosted Biddle College (now Johnson C Smith University) on a snowy day in western North Carolina. It has been documented that Livingstone team members put up money to buy a regulation football. Women of the school’s industrial department made the uniforms. Players equipped their street shoes with cleats, taking them off after practice.

The two teams played two 45-minute halves. Biddle won 5-0 in a game that ended in controversy. (So what else is new?) A Livingstone player recovered a fumble and raced to the games’ only touchdown late in the contest. Biddle argued that the fumble was recovered out of bounds thus the score didn’t count. Because of the falling snow the yard lines and out of bound markers were hard to see. The officials ruled in favor of Biddle giving the visitors the victory.

As I stated in an earlier column, many people have labeled the Southwest Athletic Conference (SWAC) as the HBCU football conference. One of the measures to prove the SWAC’s dominance in football for the last decade and a half has been the MEAC/SWAC Challenge. In this yearly event a random school from each conference is sellected to meet at a neutral location. This year Howard University (MEAC) faced off against Alabama State University(SWAC). In a game that was delayed for nearly 3 hours because of lighting and inclimate weather the ASU Hornets knotched just the conference’s sixth win 23-13. The MEAC still leds the series 11-6. In the Celebration Bowl, which pits the MEAC Champion against the SWAC Champion for the Black College Football National Championship, the MEAC leads the series 5-1. Maybe we should re-evaluate whose the HBCU football conference.

Most games during college football’s week zero and one are what I call money games. In these contests a stronger football conference/program will host a lesser rated program for what are basically practice games. The higher rated school get the practice while the lower rated team get paid. During the last two weeks some of our HBCUs got the practice by beating lesser division teams by the scores of 86-0, 58-14 and 34-0 BUT most of our teams that played “up” in competition were beaten 58-3, 70-13, 55-5, and 58-14. I wonder if it is better to be the payer or the payee in these affairs? In any event I do not want to name any HBCU regardless of which end of those scores they are associated with.

Coach Jake Gaither (standing, middle, white shirt with whistle) in the locker room with his Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) football team: Tallahassee, Florida, 1953

One of the many games in week zero was the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (ACC) vs. Florida A&M State University (SWAC). Just before the Rattlers were suppose to board their bus to the airport for the flight to North Carolina they were notified 26 members of the team had been declared ineligible by NCAA standards. Most were starters, including linebacker Isaiah Land, the Buck Buchanan Award winner and 2021 FCS National Defensive Player of the year. Land recorded 19 sacks last season.

The main stream media made it sound like the declared ineligible student-athletes were due to poor grades (to put it gently) It was also indicated that if FAMU couldn’t field a team, and the game was forfeited, the school would have to pay for UNC’s losses. (they were going to get paid, paying was NOT an option) The remaining Rattlers voted and decided to make the trip. They loss to the TarHeels 56-24 on the field.

The Athletic Department at FAMU is a hot mess. They had an interim Athletic Director, and a one person compliance department which was suppose to handle problems with academics, the transfer portal athletes, and ineligibility clearance issues. The school’s website had people listed in positions that were no longer employed at the school. They failed these kids who were put into a position that they couldn’t control.

Isaiah Land FAMU Linebacker and the 2021 FCS Defensive Player of the year. He was one of the 20 plus FAMU players not allowed to play in the game against UNC-Chapel Hill – Photo credit: Twitter

This talented Rattler team was picked most likely to dethrone Deion Sanders’ Jackson State Tigers as the SWAC champions. A week after the Chapel Hill loss, and with players missing time from practice, some returning, some not, FAMU was hammered by Jackson State 59-3.

Next week Vol V, The Classics and Homecomings.

“Remember a HBCU will accept you for who you are, and not just tolerate you for who you aren’t”

George is a proud alumni of  historically black college or university (HBCU) Fayetteville State University, Kappa Alpha Psi, and currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

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