The smaller schools do gain from the experience
Are HBCUs the Rodney Dangerfield of college basketball? Larger Division I schools annually put them on their non-conference schedule seemingly to pad their win columns. Let’s look at a sampling of last week’s game results:
Hampton lost by 36 to Xavier. Morgan State lost by 63 to West Virginia. Chicago State lost by 39 to Cincinnati. Alabama A&M lost last Tuesday by 43 to the Gophers at Williams Arena.
It happens in women’s hoops, too: Grambling lost by 43 to Florida State. Maryland defeated Howard by 62 points. Coppin State lost by 23 to Missouri.
Historically, the local media have called Minnesota’s non-conference opponents “cupcakes,” especially HBCUs. These games played at home are commonly called “guaranteed games” — the visiting team is guaranteed a specific amount of money to play.
The Gophers are now 5-0 against Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) teams, of which Alabama A&M is a member, and 7-0 overall against Black colleges. Are these Black college teams that bad? Or are the Gophers and other predominately White programs that much better?
The defeated opponent is typically treated afterward by local mainstream media types as non-entities. AAMU after the November 21 contest got only one reporter’s request for post-game comments: “If you have a game like we had tonight, nothing changes that perception,” first-year Head Coach Dennis Marsh told the MSR.
“You need to get tired of being rolled over. Until we can get to that point when an HBCU goes in [and] competes, and competes hard, then you’ll get the respect and lose the label of being soft or being a cupcake,” Marsh said.
There are, however, exceptions: “We won at Michigan State” when he was an assistant coach at Texas Southern, Marsh recalled. “We went to Kansas State and won. It’s about competing.”
“We put up a good fight, but we could’ve done better,” Bulldogs senior forward Mohammad Sherif surmised — he led the squad with 10 points. “Our team is way better than we played tonight.”
Sherif, a Philadelphia native, is the only team member not originally from the South. “I lived in Philly my whole life. I wanted to see [what] down-South life, HBCU life, is all about,” he said.
Minnesota, as well as other Division I schools assemble “soft” schedules under the oft-used “their conference schedule, is tough enough” justification. On the other hand, teams such as Alabama A&M finds scheduling Minnesota, Michigan (December 21) and Georgetown (December 23), all away from home, helps prepare them for the SWAC slate beginning in January.
“Playing against a Big Ten school like Minnesota helps you out in conference [play],” AAMU sophomore guard De’Ederick Petty said.
The lopsided scores notwithstanding, these contests “get us to the point where we are ready to go on January 1 when we go to Grambling” for their conference opener, Marsh explained. More importantly, “These experiences when we travel to different places” provide his players more on-the-road, on-the-court and off-the-court excursions. “We have two kids who’d never flown before,” the coach noted.
“We thank our coach for bringing us out here to play in this environment,” Sherif said of playing in the Barn in front of 11,000-plus spectators.
HBCUs will unfortunately continue to be seen as fodder for larger schools. “At some point we have to do something about that in order to change that perception,” concluded Marsh. “That means competing hard and for 40 minutes, not just 10 or five or 15.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.