HBCUs enjoy renewed attention for their football programs: NPR

Historically, black colleges and universities — known as HBCUs — are enjoying renewed attention for their football programs. This led to an increase in television contracts and the landing of some star players.


Of all the college football games on the schedule tomorrow, one game will be historic. For the first time, Louisiana State is taking on Southern University, an HBCU. It’s part of a growing trend that places greater emphasis on historically black college and university football teams. Cody Short of member station WBHM has the story.

CODY SHORT, BYLINE: At the Black College Football Hall of Fame Classic in Ohio a few days ago, it was celebratory.


SHORT: Winston-Salem State was taking on Central State. LaToya Turner graduated from Central State in 2009 and traveled four hours for the game.

LATOYA TURNER: HBCUs have been around since the 1800s, and it’s not just something that’s popping right now, it’s popping. He is just starting to make himself known.

COURT: This exhibit has flourished over the past few years. Football in HBCUs has always been a cultural cornerstone. Since legendary former NFL cornerback Deion Sanders took over as head coach at Jackson State University in Mississippi in 2020, he has ushered in a new wave of recognition for HBCU football.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Welcome back to the Sheraton Birmingham for SWAC Media Day 2022 presented by Pepsi…

IN BRIEF: The Southwestern Athletic Conference, or SWAC, had its media day in July. A dozen HBCUs brought their head coaches and top athletes to discuss the upcoming season. Travis Hunter was a star of the show.

TRAVIS HUNTER: Not enough of our black brothers go to HBCU. They all think they just have to go to a PWI to get the exposure they need, so I wanted them to know that they are accepted into an HBCU as well.

SHORT: Hunter shocked sports fans when he decided to attend Jackson State University rather than go to a PWI, or predominantly white institution. It’s very rare for an HBCU to land a top athlete, and Hunter was the No. 1 high school recruit who had already committed to Florida State University. “Sports Illustrated” called the move possibly the most shocking move in college football recruiting history. HBCUs generally don’t offer the same resources. But Deion Sanders is making things happen.

DEION SANDERS: I like where we are with our program, and I’m trying to ignite other programs as well, simultaneously. So when I’m on stage speaking, I’m not just speaking for Jackson State, I’m speaking for all of HBCU and all of SWAC and all of black college football in general.

IN BRIEF: Sanders is capitalizing on his notoriety to change the game. He wants HBCUs to focus on generating more money for their schools, and that’s something Abrian Scott agrees with. Scott runs the OFF SCRIPT TV YouTube channel, and he’s dedicated to HBCU sports, but he wants to see more benefits for the schools themselves.

ABRION SCOTT: As black people, what you see is that we are the culture, but we never capitalize on our own culture.

IN BRIEF: Recently, SWAC signed a media deal rumored to be worth $120 million over 10 years. It would make more money and deliver more games to more homes than ever before. But that’s tiny compared to the Big Ten Conference’s new seven-year deal that’s worth billions.

SCOTT: It’s a bad deal, and you’re not settling with media deals that get some of the money back from those schools that they paid for the games.

SHORT: Perhaps the biggest change could come as higher-ranked universities play SWAC schools in the future. This is something Louisiana State University is prepared to do. This weekend will be the first time the Tigers have faced an HBCU in school history, but it won’t be the last. LSU will face Grambling State University next year. For NPR News, I’m Cody Short.


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