It was a beautiful day in south Mississippi and Savannah State University’s football team came ready to play. The first quarter of the game was a battle and the Tigers played the Golden Eagles like they were in the same college football conference. As the game went on you could see the uneven talent level and how different the two teams were. Savannah State never gave up. The Tigers played until the end of the 4th quarter and there was no more time left on the clock.
The truth is they are not in the same football conference and that this game was scheduled to be an “easy win” for the University of Southern Mississippi. The atmosphere around this game didn’t act as if it was an “easy win” and there were over 29,000 fans in the stands who stayed for the entire game. It was competitive. It felt as if Savannah State belonged on the field against Southern Miss, but couldn’t get anything going offensively. It felt like a real college football game.
HBCU sports fans have to change their perception of these money games aka “easy wins” scheduled for bigger programs. It is like you don’t see how the historically black college & university playing is winning and I found out on Saturday exactly how Savannah State won. I was able to enjoy the fan experience while covering this game from a journalistic angle. A few questions I had in my mind while in my hometown Hattiesburg was, “Why is Savannah State here? How does this benefit HBCUs as a whole? How does this help players who come to Savannah State or other HBCUs play these cupcake scheduled games?” I remember attending a Southern Miss and Alcorn State game many seasons ago and I understood why they played them. Our HBCUs in the state wanted their fans to experience the bigger program fan experience as well as earn an easy payday for play.
I was on a mission to find the athletic director for Savannah State and I am glad that I did. Savannah State’s Athletic Director Sterling Steward, Jr set the record straight immediately to let me know that fans have to understand that this is a business. I asked him few questions and later was able to follow him to the President’s suite at the game to experience the atmosphere there. When I arrived in the suite what I saw did not look like a loss to me for Savannah State University. The President of Southern Miss Dr. Rodney Bennett and Savannah State’s President Dr. Cheryl Davenport Dozier formerly worked together at the University of Georgia so it was like two old friends seeing each other at a tailgate party. The athletic director for Savannah State is an alum of Southern Miss and he remembers the days when the Golden Eagles were scheduled for “easy wins” games. The setting was not like how you would expect a team being welcomed in for an “easy win” would be. It was like how I’ve seen other competitive power 5 program presidents act around each other. Savannah State belonged in this suite and it was business as usual.
After conducting more research on my part I found out that when Southern Miss plays LSU and Nebraska that they are being paid to play those games. Yes, you guessed it… “EASY WINS” for their opponents. A former athletic director for Southern Miss found a way to fire a losing coach (0-12 to be exact) and sell home-field advantage for the amount the school would be in debt for firing this coach. How much was that? Over 2 million dollars. What does this mean for the HBCUs whose fan bases know nothing about the business of college football? It means that you should back off the staff and programs that are using these games to fund the university & football programs that you won’t support beyond 140 characters online. Southern Miss’s athletic programs debt increased when an athletic director (before the one I stated above) didn’t want to engage in pay-for-play games and use those games to keep their budget balanced.
One of the realest things that Sterling Steward, Jr told me was that he knows the fans that complain the most aren’t contributing consistently to the university nor the sports teams. He went on to discuss that if they did then the athletic program wouldn’t have to seek out how to add over a million dollars to the university and athletic program budget. It is these games that your football team will help provide a new building for academia, a new dormitory for your next freshman class and better facilities & equipment for all of your sports teams. I’ve seen the jokes and comments about the pay-for-play games and it’s exhausting. If you really support your schools with the pride you tweet that you have then put your money where your mouth is. If HBCU sports fans all bought season tickets then this would help eliminate one of these pay-for-play aka “easy win” games.
HBCU athletic programs have to promote themselves as a brand. Your bands are brands so why aren’t your athletic programs promoted the same way? I ask this because many people will know about an HBCUs band before they know which Pro Football Hall of Fame player went to that particular historically black college & university. Use that to leverage talent to your university and push fan engagement while you have fans in the stands. The two rows of fans from Savannah State were welcomed at Southern Miss and they were engaged throughout the entire game. They never gave up and had the same enthusiasm that the players had the entire game. Savannah State was welcomed to the city of Hattiesburg where the Mayor Johnny Dupree and the university’s President Dr. Bennett look like them. How awesome is it to have our student-athletes see African-American men in this environment and in south Mississippi? AMAZING! These “easy win” games help expose our student-athletes to cities, states and environments that they would never experience outside of Georgia. I don’t understand why you, the FAN, would want them to stop doing this when this does so much more for the student-athlete and the school. Notice I put the student-athlete first. I overheard a few of them say they were ready for this game and that they played their hearts out. I took this as hell coming for teams following these games they just played against bigger programs.
It is time we shift the perception of these games and strengthen your HBCU fan base if you want this to stop. There are power 5 programs looking for teams like Southern Miss for “easy wins”. Teams like Southern Miss are working to get out of debt and for a payday just like your favorite historically black college & university is.
It is okay for our HBCUs to do what they need to do because being popular isn’t paying salaries nor is it preparing our student-athletes for the next level. I went to an HBCU (FORT VALLLLEYYY) for one year and because of family issues I went back home to Mississippi. I still support FVSU and I stand by what I am sharing with you today. Support your university the way you will retweet for money for your school. You can do more, but will you do it now that you have a little more light shed on this pay-for-play system? We shall see.
*Media Partnership: Dawn was contracted by HBCU GAMEDAY to cover the game day experience via snap chat & share her fan perspective of this game*