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Jarrett L. Carter Headshot

Black College Football is Dying, and the Bands Will Play On

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The heart of a recent column from Kevin Scarbinsky of AL.com could be found in just a few lines.

Even a historically bad SEC team can beat up a solid team from the SWAC.

Except at halftime. The battle of the bands was as big a mismatch as the game, but in reverse. The Auburn band was good, as usual. The Alabama A&M band put on what had to be the best halftime show ever in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The great migration of high achieving black students and premier black athletic talent defecting from HBCUs to predominantly white institutions has cost historically black colleges and universities billions in unrealized sports revenues and alumni giving.

But desegregation's untold ravaging of black communities and their talent pool will remain just that, untold, because our bands play on.

That's not to disparage the accomplished work of HBCU student musicians or their directors. They live out what millions in stands and on fields across America every Saturday have either long forgotten or never came to learn about black colleges. Hundreds of thousands of student musicians and singers bring great acclaim to HBCUs with their talent, and they take pride in breeding excellence at schools made, maintained and molded for their experience as African-Americans.

They take pride in what they do, and being able to do it with their people, in front of their people, and for their people.

That same pride is missing from black college sports. We complain about the necessity of guaranteed games while shying away from buying season tickets or brokering marketing support of our programs from companies and industries we overwhelmingly support with our dollars. We don't turn our home games into civic events for churches, organizations, elementary and middle schools.

We're not motivated by massive defeats at the hands of PWIs which, in a trend not unusual in our nation's history, profit off of Black talent without any substantial investment in the communities and families which cultivate and proffer it.

We aim low and fall short on the potential of sports serving black colleges in the same way as they've served white colleges, as marketing machines capable of generating millions in scholarship support, capital financing and legislative leverage.

And we do that because the bands will play on. For as long as they succeed and earn attention and support across racial and political lines, we're distracted from the elements needed to build black college culture for long-term success.

HBCUs aren't without their sports success stories. Black colleges have, in the last two years, won national titles in women's basketball and women's bowling, both non-revenue bearing sports. Both Shaw University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore have leveraged those wins into great community-level interest and support, but not into national acclaim for the institutions.

Hampton University now claims two alumnae as gold and bronze medal-winning Olympians from the 2012 games in London. Billboards touted their achievement and the university's pride in their accomplishment, earning local attention and coverage.

The most successful black college football team over the last five years? Winston-Salem State University, which advanced to the national semi-finals of the 2011 NCAA Division II football championship. They finished that season undefeated in the regular season, and 13-1 on the year. They are again undefeated and will play their first playoff game this weekend.

As is wont to happen with Division II black college sports, their dynasty is a tree falling in the untraveled national forest of BCS title talk.

But you can best believe that everyone is amped up for the Honda Battle of the Bands!

The remedy is difficult, but not unseen on how to change culture with black colleges athletics. Find young assistants at the BCS and power conference level, and do all you can to make them coaches for life. Brian Jenkins at Bethune-Cookman and Todd Bozeman at Morgan State have shown that the right circumstances at the right time will reap major cultural and financial dividends for HBCU athletics and their popularity.

Marching bands bring great pride and support to HBCU sports fans, but no substantial support to an HBCUs financial ledger. Some would argue that a good HBCU halftime show is the sworn enemy to concession stands in stadiums throughout the HBCU south; cutting into even more of our schools' ability to make money.

Until a majority of HBCU executives learn to balance the promotion of marching band culture within the larger context of athletic success, Saturday's sweet music will soon evolve into a brass band funeral dirge for many of our proud sports programs.