From the start, MEAC programs like South Carolina State and Florida A&M were cool to the idea of a proposed Legacy Bowl that would decide a mythical black college national champion. When the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference was given a pair of berths in last season’s Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, the idea was all but dead. Subsequent financial questions have likely finished it off.
Though a rarity, 2010’s two-team scenario showed the NCAA was willing give any number of worthy HBCU programs a chance to face a broader range of competitors. That’s been a growing concern amongst some schools, as administrators, coaches and fans worried privately that black colleges might not get a fair shake in the decision-making process.
“I thought that was a good thing that helped us a good bit,” said South Carolina State coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough. “The fact is that it does look like we can get a second team in, if we can play well.”
When the MEAC’s council of chief executive officers met recently, their decision on sending a football title-winner to the Legacy Bowl was as quick as it was definitive: “The MEAC football champion will not compete in any post-season football bowl game and can and will continue to compete at the FCS’ highest level.”
Unlike the Southwestern Athletic Conference, its counterpart in this proposed HBCU postseason matchup, the MEAC as an automatic qualifying bid for its top team. Competing at that level, the council confirmed, was more important than helping launch yet another college bowl — whatever the possible financial rewards.
“I’m glad that we’re (still) in. I think you want to compete against the best,” Pough added. “The last thing you want to do is run away from a competition such as this, especially when it could be said that we’re taking our ball and going home instead of competing against the best. So I’m excited about a chance that we continue to try to do our best against the top teams in the Championship Subdivision — and I look forward to strengthening our schedule and working to get our program to the point where we can compete effectively against those guys.”
Of course, when you start talking “financial rewards,” that’s where it gets tricky. The game’s predecessor, the Heritage Bowl, fell apart amidst financial difficulties years ago. And even this new venture had some question marks regarding who would get paid, and how much.
Commissioners Dennis Thomas and Duer Sharp, of the MEAC and SWAC respectively, initially said the two leagues would split $3 million in an ESPN-sponsored game, to be played Dec. 17 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. But then South Carolina State school president George Cooper said he confirmed, through Thomas, that the actual payout for the game was $600,000 — a much smaller figure that would then be split among league members. Participating squads, Cooper said, would have to cover a wide range of expenses involving the team, band and cheerleaders from that guaranteed money.
That too shifted allegiances, and quickly, amongst top MEAC leadership.
Meanwhile, Pough’s correct: The next challenge is actually competing at that level. An HBCU hasn’t claimed the FCS national championship since Florida A&M in 1978. In fact, it’s been 11 years since the MEAC even won a postseason game.