As college football season draws closer, it’s that time when coaches participate in conference media days. Most do so with a clean slate and all of the optimism in the world. At that point, every program is undefeated.
Media days are a sign that fall football camp is less than two weeks away, as the quest to win a championship begins in earnest. During media days in the SEC and SWAC conferences, a question was posed to Alabama head coach Nick Saban, Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin and Jackson State head coach and Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders.
Sanders’ success and his ability to recruit at a four and five-star level has created a feeling of great optimism in college football as far as HBCU program’s (sooner than later) elevating to the level of major Power Five programs.
Would a Power Five SEC program like Alabama or Ole Miss be willing to play Jackson State, an HBCU program which competes in the (FCS)?
The answers varied but the sentiment seemed to be the same, and each coach said they’d be willing to consider playing an in-state HBCU. At SEC media day Saban said, “I would be very much in favor of that.”
It would certainly be a rare venture for Alabama, who hasn’t played a non-Auburn in-state rival since 1944, according to reports.
Saban’s Wife On Stillman College Board
Saban and his wife Miss Terry are heavy philanthropists in the Tuscaloosa area. And for her to be on the board at nearby Stillman College — an HBCU located about seven miles from Alabama isn’t all that surprising.
“We’ve tried to be very supportive. Miss Terry is on the Board of Trustees at Stillman College,” Saban said. “I’ve always been an advocate of playing in-state schools because I think it sort of helps them raise their level and their ability to compete, which obviously if you do that, you also contribute to how successful the players in those organizations can be.”
Saban sounds like a different man since throwing Coach Sanders and the Jackson State program under the bus during a rally in Birmingham in May. He insinuated that the Tigers used NIL money to land the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit in Travis Hunter. Something Sanders vehemently denied, and he demanded an apology which he received. The two are now back doing AFLAC commercials.
Lane Kiffin Says He’d Like It, Sanders Says JSU Is Not Quite Ready
Former Alabama offensive coordinator and current Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin also liked the possibility of his team playing an HBCU, especially an in-state team. When responding to the possibility of having another potential big-time program in the state, Kiffin also mentioned Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach. Leach is a confidant and good friend of Sanders, who actually guided Sanders to hire new offensive coordinator Brett Bartolone.
“Well we have another personality in Mike Leach, so I would say there are three personalities in the state who are extremely different from each other,” Kiffin said at SEC Media Day. “But it’s been great to see Deion’s success — Coach Sanders success — and how well he has done down there and how he has done in recruiting. I don’t know future plans (in potentially scheduling each other) but that would be exciting.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban says he "would be very much in favor of" playing an in-state FCS school or HBCU.
Alabama hasn't played a non-Auburn in-state program since… 1944?
— Tom Green (@Tomas_Verde) July 19, 2022
As for Sanders, he knows it would be huge from a recruiting, visibility and exposure standpoint. Not to mention a huge payday for Jackson State or any other HBCU. But he’s also smart enough to know his program’s overall talent base isn’t quite there yet to battle with those schools.
But at SWAC media day he said give him another year.
“He’s not gonna play us right now. We’re not ready to do that. We’re not into sacrificing our kids to get a check. He got to give me another year.”
“I got to beef up in the front. The difference in Power Fives and HBCUs right now is those big guys in the middle. It’s not the quarterbacks, it’s not the receivers, and DBs or the skills positions. It’s those big dogs in the middle. We’ve got to beef up that to be able to compete with something like that.”
Alabama and the Magnolia State are mixed bags of college coaches with big, quirky personalities. But one thing for sure, two things for certain, they’re all good for college football in their own way. And for the first time, Power Five head coaches are at least acknowledging HBCU programs and the potential for D-1 growth that they are showing.