The Coach Prime Effect Makes HBCU Football A Big Deal This Spring

    As I look around the country and the HBCUs have begun their football season in the Spring, one thing I’ve noticed is how hard and intense the games have been.

    In other words, don’t tell those student-athletes that this doesn’t count.

    In the opening week of the season, I watched Southern and Alabama State do battle in a highly contested SWAC contest and it reminded me of all that we’ve been missing amongst the global pandemic.

    The intensity wasn’t only played out on the gridiron but in the stands as well. If you didn’t know it was February, you’d probably have thought it was a mid-October battle in Black College Football.

    The Southern Jaguars were the visitors, dressed in their pristine white uniforms. As they prepared to enter the field from the tunnel, a chorus of boos rained down on the guys from “The Bayou.”

    Those boos came from the Alabama State student section, and although filtered through masks they were still pretty loud. The players jawed at the fans and the fun was once again in the air. Never to be outdone was the music and pageantry of the ASU band (The Mighty Marching Hornets) and their dance team (The Stingettes), as the Southern band didn’t make the trek due to COVID-19 restrictions.

    At a time when the annual CIAA and many other basketball tournaments are supposed to be front and center, we have football being played instead. In the year since the pandemic shutdown the NCAA Tournament, NBA, and pretty much anything else we looked forward to, it’s just amazing to get back to some sense of normalcy even if it’s our new normal.

    Coach Prime Effect 

    Just ask Jackson State first-year head coach Deion Sanders who was hired to lead the Tigers back to prominence. They’ve started 3-0 (Including a forfeit by Alcorn St). They dismantled Edward Waters (53-0) in “Coach Prime’s” first game.

    They then traveled to Grambling State to face a team that hadn’t lost at home since 2017. All Sanders did was lead JSU to a thrilling 33-28 victory after a fumble by Grambling State on the goal line as they were looking to take the lead with a minute left on the clock.

    That set off a celebration for the Tigers of JSU, that we’ve so dearly missed since 2019. Sanders being on the sidelines coaching Black College Football is a huge deal for all parties involved.

    I know because as much as the Grambling State staff tried to downplay the fact that he was on the opposing sideline his name came up all week during teleconferences and team pressers. Hate him or love him he’s great for the SWAC and Black College Football as a whole.

    To have a personality like Sanders bringing people together, roaming the sidelines, and giving us weekly soundbites, is exactly what we need after having more than 500,000 lives lost because of COVID19.

    Was Spring football the right decision? That remains to be seen but so far, so good. In a year where the civil unrest reached a new level, “SPORTS” is ever so vital.

    Prime Time Slot

    His arrival has been so big that ESPN has moved this week’s game between his Jackson State Tigers and Mississippi Valley State from ESPN3 to ESPN2. This can be seen as an early step to getting a linear television deal and not just have HBCU football on the internet.

    The Tigers played their first two games on ESPN3. Game highlights against Edward Waters and Grambling State have received over 830,000 views and almost 400,000 views on ESPN’s YouTube channel, as of Tuesday.

    “That’s quite an achievement and an honor for Jackson State,” Sanders said. “We welcome it and we’re excited about it.”

    After four years of bigotry and unashamed embracing of white supremacists at the highest level of government. That simmering pot boiled over into a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. 

    But everything has not all been bad the last year, the visibility that the HBCU world currently has is definitely at a level not seen in ages, if ever. The NBA even themed a lot of their All-Star game around generating revenue for the HBCU community via the United Negro College Fund and Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

    And in no way, shape, or form am I saying sports covers the hurt, loss, anguish, and devastation we’ve experienced the last calendar year, but it does help soften the blow a little.