It’s the start of the college football season, so that means it’s time for some money games for Historically Black Colleges and Universities against Power 5 opponents.
The opening weekend includes Howard at Maryland, Florida A&M at Miami (Fla.) and North Carolina Central at Duke. Week 2 has Howard again taking advantage of a significant payday at Rutgers, Prairie View A&M at Texas A&M, and Grambling State traveling to Arizona for a late Saturday night game.
Last season, Howard lost at Boston College in the second week of the season 76-0, a game that made national headlines when referees shortened the game to avoid injuries and further embarrassment for the Bison. This happened against a BC team that went 0-8 in the ACC.
Howard is just an example of HBCU teams blown out in guaranteed games. HBCU teams lost by a combined score of 492-92 against Power 5 opponents in the first week last season. The paydays range from $500,000 to $1 million. Last year’s openers cost Big Ten teams a combined $12.9 million, according to ESPN.
Power 5 programs operate under budgets in excess of $100 million while HBCU and other lower-division programs try to manage at around $5 million to keep their athletic departments functioning. Southern losing 48-6 at Georgia last season was a necessary sacrifice to take home $650,000 to fund its athletic programs back home.
Grambling, a program steeped in tradition with the legendary Eddie Robinson once the head coach, made national headlines in 2013 when its players boycotted a game at Jackson State because of the deteriorating state of the program and the firing of popular alum Doug Williams as head coach.
It’s an annual battle for HBCU and lower-division teams to make ends meet, which makes these guaranteed games a necessary evil. These lopsided matchups continue because of how the paydays impact these financially struggling programs year to year while bringing a higher level of excitement among the players to compete against teams at the highest level.
HBCU programs have a rich history of their own, with Grambling as an example and Morgan a perennial powerhouse. The routs against major-college teams aside, these programs have a sense of pride. It’s a testament that all scholarship athletes, not just the privileged few, are afforded the opportunity to partake in a college football Saturday.
If player safety was a true concern, or the embarrassing results too much to bear, the scheduling of these guaranteed games would have stopped years ago.
It does not take long for the HBCU programs to spend what they make in these games on scholarships, coaching salaries and travel expenses. It is a vicious cycle, but at least the players have a sense of excitement (albeit short-lived) while preparing for programs such Alabama and Michigan. The memories of playing in Tuscaloosa or Ann Arbor are priceless.
When Florida A&M played at Ohio State a few years ago, it took home $900,000 and a 76-0 beating, but also an opportunity for its players to say they played at The Horseshoe.
Those “opportunities” may be coming to an end, not because of the disparity of the teams, but because of scheduling needs for Power 5 programs. The Big Ten has announced it will stop scheduling FCS teams starting this season because it is necessary to strengthen schedules to earn a better shot at the College Football Playoffs.
Other Power 5 conferences are likely to follow, which will make these guaranteed games more obsolete. Oddly enough, that should come has more terrifying to HBCU programs than losing by 50 or more points. They may no longer be able to field a team because of this, therefore eliminating the chance for college competition for more than 70 student-athletes.
The guaranteed games happen once or twice a season; these programs still play 10 to 11 games within their region against teams from their division. People lose sight of that because of the blowout losses.
No question, the mismatches are unfortunate, but the outcomes should in no way be a public relations nightmare. Nobody will think less of what Grambling represents, including the legacy Robinson built there, if the Tigers lose by 50 points at Arizona. The HBCU schools should not be judged on how they play against Power 5 opponents.
That short-sighted way of thinking is more embarrassing than the outcome.
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