Could Huge Dollar Games Ultimately Hurt?
There’s Southern University football. Then, there’s everybody else in the Black College athletic universe.
That’s a common view of “Jaguar Nation,” the huge following of SWAC football fans that travel week after week to watch the Baton Rouge team take on formidable opponents, both within their conference and outside of it.
So, Saturday night was particularly bruising – even embarrassing – for Jags’ fans collective psyche: Southern, a perennial SWAC champion, lost to Texas Southern University, a program that has never won a conference championship, 24-0.
“I had to go,” said Lisa Brown Marshall, a Southern alumna, who lives in Keller. Marshall left Saturday evening’s game at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
“That hurt my heart,” said Marshall, who brought her husband, Garry, and son, Quincy, out to watch her beloved Jags.
The Jags’ loss against TSU raised a serious question in Black college football circles: Was Southern, who was widely favored – even expected – to win too tired or too demoralized to do so after they took a beating last week against LSU.
In fact, fans questioned whether any historically Black SWAC or Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference team, play a larger Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) program, such as LSU or Rice University, at all.
“Maybe, we shouldn’t have played LSU last weekend,” said Chandra Ponton Moore, an alumna who lives in Kennedale, questioned near the end of Saturday’s game.
“Were they all hurt?” she wondered, after acknowledging she had not seen Southern’s injury list for this week.
Last week, the Jags lost 17-65 to Louisiana State University in the cross-city matchup. Southern reportedly raked in $760,000 to play the game. It was the first time the two teams had ever suited up against each other.
Meanwhile, Texas Southern was blown out by the University of North Texas, 27-59. TSU’s haul from the game could not be determined late Saturday.
The lop-sided losses for the two HBCUs still weighed heavily on some fans’ hearts Saturday night.
“I am surprised at the outcome,” said Sharon Henry Stephens, a Southern University alumna who traveled from the Houston area to see the Jags play. “I’m surprised that we didn’t score.”
Both Southern and TSU athletic officials downplayed the impact of last week’s losses on this week’s game.
“No,” Willie D. Scott, Southern’s associate director of strategic communications, said emphatically, after he was asked Saturday whether his team was too injured, physically or otherwise, from last week’s LSU matchup, to play well this week.
“A student athlete can get injured at home,” he said. “I don’t feel like that game (against LSU) hurt us at all on the next game.”
In fact, he said, Jaguar fans, who regularly attend away games in droves of 18,000 to 30,000 fans, more than many Power 5 football programs, are accustomed to winning – and don’t take lightly to losing.
“Our expectations are high,” he said. “We have 19 conference championships. We have seven Western Division titles. We have 11 Black national championships. We expect to win.”
TSU athletic officials said the matchups between smaller and larger athletic programs are good for both – and the cities in which they are played.
“Everyone does it,” TSU Sports Information Director Ryan McGinty said. “It happens across all levels. Everyone is playing for a different reason.”
“We’re all fighting for the same thing at the end of the day. We’re scheduled to play Rice again next year,” he said. “It just does well for the city.”
Conversation about the impact – physical or mental – of matchups between HBCUs and predominantly white institutions with well-funded football programs was the topic of much online banter this week.
It fueled complaints from Jackson State University Head Football Coach Deion Sanders that historically Black colleges are inequitably paid for the matchups.
“If we gonna get our butt kicked, shouldn’t it be worth it,” Sanders reportedly told HBCU Sports, a digital media outlet that covers Black college athletics.
“How in the world are we settling for the peanuts and the little minute droppings that they are giving us when everybody is darn near $500,000 to $600,000?”
Sanders told the outlet that Appalachian State “got $1.5 million to play against Texas A&M. Georgia Southern got 1.4 million to play against Nebraska and so forth.”
Meanwhile, the outlet noted, historically Black Florida A&M received $450,000 when it lost 59-24 to the University of North Carolina; Alabama State earned $590,000 during its appearance earlier this month against UCLA. The Hornets were defeated 45-7.
Scott said such games fill the athletic coffers of HBCU programs, which often are underfunded.
“I strongly feel like those money games help build the program,” he said.
“Football is the moneymaker for any university,” he said. “Football takes care of all non-revenue sports.”
Southern fans said Saturday night they would have to suck up the latest loss – regardless of why it occurred.
“One thing about Southernites, we’re ride or die,” Stephens said.