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Is an HBCU Superconference Inevitable?

Is an HBCU Superconference a fantasy or inevitable?

The hypothesis: An HBCU Superconference is inevitable. 

The future of collegiate athletics will focus on strategic business partnerships within the FBS and FCS conferences. The recent flurry of activity will not subside any time soon. It may be time for the SWAC, MEAC, CIAA, and SIAC to get into the game before bargaining power swings to more progressive conferences.

The archaic notions of "that's not what Coach Rob or Coach Gaither" would have wanted for the SWAC or MEAC must end. Influential business deals are brewing between major FBS conferences and sports networks.

HBCU Superconference

FBS BLUEPRINT GIVES HBCUs A CLUE

The HBCUs can no longer take the "wait and see" approach. Look around. Storied programs are not holding onto yesterday like HBCUs. Last year, Texas and Oklahoma finally saw the writing on the wall and decided to leave the Big 12 and follow Texas A&M to the SEC. North Carolina A&T and Hampton went to the Big South and a year later jumped again to the CAA. Howard flirted with exiting the MEAC after Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman successfully entered the SWAC.

USC and UCLA were founding members of the PAC-12. Yet, the Big 10 lured them away with a guarantee for significant gains in revenue. Each Big 10 school will share a projected $1 billion deal with a major broadcasting network. Nearly $1 million per institution. Why couldn't the SWAC and MEAC combine to do the same and broker a lucrative agreement with ESPN, FOX, or NBC?

Dr. Kenyatta Cavil tweeted, "There’re too many broadcasting platforms seeking content for the money to run out [with the Big Ten and SEC deals]. The current state is for the remaining conferences to figure out their market value. Consider this point, the Pac-12 will immediately go on the offense seeking conference expansion."

THE MONEY IS THERE

In February, Byron Allen's Allen Media Group/Entertainment Studios' property HBCUGo.TV app officially inked a deal to stream 2,000 SWAC athletic events annually. Allen told HBCU Legends that it was a "seven-figure" partnership between the SWAC and HBCUGo.TV.

Florida A&M and Grambling signed a contract with Urban Edge Networks, Inc.'s HBCU League Pass+ to stream content. HBCU Gameday's Steven Gaither reported UEN has filed a lawsuit against the SWAC and is pending, citing "improper and illegal interference."

The bottom line is this, HBCU conferences can see financial windfalls if the conference commissioners and presidents aggressively and appropriately negotiate contracts.

KEYWORDS: AGGRESSIVE AND UNITY

The SWAC conference has twelve member institutions: Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Alcorn State, Bethune-Cookman, Florida A&M, Grambling State, Jackson State, Mississippi Valley State, Prairie View A&M, Southern University, Texas Southern University, and the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

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Commissioner Sonja Stills leads the MEAC with Coppin State, Delaware State, Howard University, Maryland Eastern Shore, Morgan State, Norfolk State, North Carolina Central, and South Carolina State as competing members for 2022.

Here are the unsubstantiated rumors swirling around HBCUs:

  1. Tennessee State may decide to join an HBCU conference.
  2. Howard kept its options open after declining the CAA invitation.
  3. Jackson State, Grambling, or FAMU could bounce to an FBS conference.
  4. Morgan State may explore leaving the MEAC with former Bowie State's head coach Damon Wilson taking over the Bears' football program.

The more problematic scenario is No. 3. If either of these SWAC institutions jettisons the conference, bargaining with a network becomes less powerful. Jackson State, with head coach Deion Sanders and the largest average attendance in the FCS, is the more attractive partner in the SWAC. 

For the moment, Florida A&M's head coach Willie Simmons and the school's winning legacy are ranked second to Jackson State. Grambling is a storied and highly-respected name in all of college football. Should Hue Jackson have a successful 2022 season, the G-Men could write their ticket elsewhere. Any departures by these programs could make negotiations stressful for Dr. McClelland. To avoid the issue, a swift progression towards a new partnership could thwart anyone leaving the SWAC.

Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders and South Carolina State head coach Oliver Pough

THE SCENARIOS

Here are possible scenarios for the HBCU conferences and institutions:

  1. The SWAC-MEAC merger makes the most sense and could become financially more potent in the long term. NCAA reporter Stan Becton wrote that the MEAC is on the edge with "six or fewer FCS teams." Should the SWAC and MEAC combine forces to form a 20-school superconference, they could finally vie for an automatic FCS playoff bid.
  2. SWAC and MEAC negotiate more financially rewarding broadcasting and streaming rights as a package deal. Or each conference separately negotiates broadcasting and streaming contracts.
  3. The upper-tier teams could decide to break away and form a new HBCU superconference should a merger fail and negotiate new terms with broadcast partners. Host Carlos Brown brought the name of Jackson State's Ashley Robinson as a potential conference commissioner. Another could be former FAMU AD Kortne Gosha.
  4. Teams could join FBS or higher FCS conferences.
  5. SWAC and MEAC remain with their current members and wait for further fallout.
  6. The SIAC and CIAA could form a new conference. Could Dr. Kiki Barnes broker a new partnership with either for the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference?
  7. Programs like Morgan State could jump into the SWAC.  Also, what about Langston in Oklahoma?

Whereas all scenarios seem plausible unless Dr. McClelland and Commissioner Stills review the feasibility studies soon, waiting and time could weigh against the HBCU conferences.  

It's not about realignment for HBCUs, but more about reorganization that only a landmark agreement could make it a reality.

Money is being dangled and luring institutions away one by one each season. The finances are driving these decisions. Is it time to put away the emotions of rivalries and "good ol' times" to move forward for the HBCUs?

We shall see.