ESPN's The Undefeated featured a thought-provoking article on how HBCUs can survive in the 21st century. Historical Black Colleges and Universities have had many issues with finances, accreditation, and athletics -- notably football.
Decades ago, countless prominent football players such as Michael Strahan, Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, Deacon Jones, Steve McNair and Shannon Sharpe honed their skills at HBCUs.
In 2016, there were 32 players in the NFL that played at HBCUs, which is a drastic drop compared to 1994 where 86 HBCU players were on active rosters. During the times when HBCUs were littered with NFL talent, the schools were viewed as the top resort. Now, HBCUs are akin to a "Last Chance U."
Some notable recruits such as Howard's Caylin Newton and Alabama A&M's Aqueel Glass are trying to change the culture, but it is a work in progress.
National Signing Day just passed and a plethora of college football players signed their letters of intent. From Miami to Texas A&M to Saginaw Valley State, many student-athletes are fulfilling a dream of being a college football player.
When looking at the ESPN 300 for the 2019 Class, 299 of them chose a Power 5 school. One recruit out of the 300, signed to Boise State. Now, we know the lay of the land when it comes to college football. Coaches often double as car salesmen and they do what they have to do to get the best talent on campus or to keep talent away from their rivals.
A high percentage of those players will likely enter the transfer portal after realizing that the school they selected isn't a good fit for them.
Recently, former Michigan State star Donnie Corley, a former four-star recruit, signed a letter of intent with Texas Southern. Meanwhile, it's not to say that Corley should have signed with Texas Southern coming out of Detroit King High School, but what if he took that chance starting off his career at an HBCU rather than heading to East Lansing?
"Kids come out of the high school and feel that their only recourse is to attend a Power 5 school," said TSFJ alum and NCCU legend Joe Simmons. "They go to places that they are capable of playing and for one out of four it works out as planned. If that kid would have chosen an HBCU, they would have more than likely received instant gratification. At an HBCU, that kid is going to get a chance to develop, but do it playing and not just being a scrimmage dummy.
"If more 3-star kids start choosing HBCUs, they could change the perception of these schools. You're starting to see it as NCCU, Prarie View, and Southern are starting to steal kids from Power 5 schools."
If you have a kid from the inner-city of Chicago or the suburb of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, is it better to go to Buffalo and be a student-athlete in the MAC? Or should he go to Grambling State where you will be coached up regardless of stature and get a prestigious education? Not taking anything away from schools like Buffalo, but the overall experience is likely better than being in the city where Marshawn Lynch had to settle for Applebee's as his source of entertainment.
From an educational perspective, you will have more one-on-one time with professors and tutors. While it may seem outlandish to say this, you can study a major of your choice. Some notable PWI's only allow their athletes to focus on degrees with little use in the real world, and do little to actually educate the students. It's a way to make them look good on paper, even if the tutors are using WritingCheap to help get their work done. For example, if you are playing college football and general studies is your major, how does that set you up for life after football -- even if you are an Academic All-American?
Not to say that all universities are like this, but it happens. At an HBCU, most schools will allow you to focus on the degree of your choice. Whether it's journalism or mechanical engineering, the choice is yours.
Athletically and socially, at HBCUs the chances of playing right away and you becoming a well-rounded person are essential. Scoring touchdowns is great, but with the stats against collegiate athletes going pro, it's imperative to make connections for life after football. Joining fraternities and social groups will give you the connections to succeed after your playing days are over.
In the mentioned article from The Undefeated, NBA great and Winston Salem alum Earl Monroe stated:
“Students go to HBCUs because of the familiarity of it all, like [North Carolina] A&T, second and third generations go there. They’re going to these schools because it feels like family. When you are comfortable, the rich, nurturing experiences lift you up. You get caring professors, people who look out for you. The supportive atmosphere found at HBCUs allows students to excel without the racial pressures that exist outside the classroom. “You develop lifelong friendships and a sense of belonging. That’s what I took away from Winston-Salem State."
I often tell kids that going to college to play football is bigger than football. It's important to use football as a vehicle to get you where you want to be in life. Simply put, don't let the game use you. Leave with a degree and the connections to land jobs and internships. In my opinion, HBCUs do better with that due to the percentages of their athletes not going pro.
That method is hard to sell, given that most schools recruit in a way to sell a gimmick - the best shoes, top-flight gear, and unrealistic expectations from an athletic and academic perspective.
HBCUs do not have the state-of-the-art facilities and the frills that big schools have. There aren’t a litany of Jordan and LeBron cleats laying out for you to try on, but they can sell a real-life experience rather than a false one.
In an article from the Red and Black, Savannah State University head football coach Earnest Wilson III is against choosing a school based on facilities and brand endorsements.
“A young man has to understand that that is not where he is going to sleep, that is not where he is going to eat, that is not where he will be living one day,” Wilson said. “That’s why I say we have to start selling our kids education. A school may be sponsored by Nike, but you have to think, ‘OK you are not going to be wearing those same Nike shoes or cleats four or five years down the road. You better be ready to wear business shoes.’”
There is still a lot of work to do for HBCUs, both the academic institutions and football programs.
The idea of them competing with the blue bloods of college football is still far-fetched, but if high school recruits begin taking their talents to HBCUs, they can carve a name for themselves in the same vein as some of sports' greatest legends of yesteryear.