Thomas Grant, a beat writer for the MEAC’s South Carolina State whom I respect a lot, bemoans the state of the league in a new blog — taking a shot at the “non-serious” SWAC along the way.
The MEAC, as Grant notes, is the only FCS conference with three winless teams through the first month of the 2010 football season — North Carolina A&T, Delaware State and Savannah State. (Just three of 11 league programs are above .500, including conference-leading Hampton.)
Additional weight dragging the conference down, Grant says, includes the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s addition of Savannah State — a program that (to be kind) struggled mightily as an independent while being dogged by controversy, including an embarrassing reverse-discrimination lawsuit — as well as the possibility of a new Legacy Bowl to decide a mythical black college football champion.
That long-discussed game, reportedly slated for Dec. 17, 2011, would take place during the FCS playoffs — a sticking point for programs like South Carolina State, which as a member of the MEAC earns an automatic berth as league champion. SCSU stands at No. 9 in the latest FCS polling, stalled behind “the likes of William and Mary, Villanova, Delaware and James Madison — who receive a major boost as members of the ultracompetitive Colonial Athletic Association,” Grant notes.
The Southwestern Athletic Conference, meanwhile, has more recently scheduled television games — notably the Bayou Classic between Grambling and Southern, broadcast nationally on NBC — to end the regular season. These contests, proponents say, help bolster struggling athletic budgets while travelling teams in the FCS postseason end up losing money.
Grant argues that programs like South Carolina State have higher goals.
“If anything, Savannah State’s addition is helping to accomplish what many believe the Legacy Bowl would do — bring the MEAC down to a level where it’s viewed in the same non-serious manner as its HBCU brethren the Southwestern Athletic Conference,” Grant says. “The most recent FCS power ratings I was able to locate has the MEAC ranked near the bottom with the Patriot League and SWAC, all but eliminating the possibility of an at-large berth to go to the FCS playoffs with the automatic qualifier.”
To me, it seems that the SWAC, which hasn’t sent a team to the playoffs since 1997, is admitting the obvious: While the initial Football Championship Subdivision championship game was won in 1978 by the MEAC’s Florida A&M over UMass, there hasn’t been an HBCU emerge from the first round since 1999 — when FAMU advanced to the semifinals. (Most recently, South Carolina State has fallen in consecutive opening games against Appalachian State, 20-13 in 2009 and 37-21 in 2008.)
That makes the Legacy Bowl’s potential $3 million guaranteed payout, not to mention national exposure on ESPN, too much to pass up for many university presidents across both conferences. I don’t see that as a lack of “seriousness” when it comes to the game of football, so much as a fundamental understanding of the crushing budget disadvantages faced by their institutions.
Why, and how to fix it? Well, that is a discussion for another day. (Fans could start, for instance, by attending their home games — and not just the “classics.”)
As for how the SWAC shapes up, the league begins October with only one winless program — the criminally underfunded Mississippi Valley State — followed by a rebuilding Southern, which has just one victory. Six of its 10 members are at .500 or above, including divisional leaders Grambling (3-1; 3-0) in the West and Alcorn State (3-1; 2-0) in the East.