The MEAC/SWAC Challenge Kickoff will jumpstart the 2021 college football season this weekend. Alcorn State of the SWAC plays the MEAC’s North Carolina Central in Atlanta Saturday, August 28 at 7 pm, 6 pm Central live on ESPN.
HBCU football has been around for decades, where legendary players and coaches roam, such as Eddie Robinson, James Harris, Doug Williams and Lem Barney among so many others. It’s nice that Black college football is sharing the spotlight; starting at least a week ahead of the rest of the college football world is a good beginning.
“You know it wouldn’t be Black college football if you didn’t mention the bands,” said Florida A&M Coach Willie Simmons. “And before you mentioned the bands, you have to talk about the tailgating and the folks that are outside the stadium. I think all of that goes into the atmosphere of HBCU football.
“Once you get past that,” continued Simmons, “then you get down to the show of the game. Our production of a football game should be looked at no less than an SEC game or ACC game or anything else. We have to give it the same attention and the same respect.”
At least 31 regular-season MEAC football games will be televised on ESPN, ESPNU and ESPN3. The Celebration Bowl that features the MEAC champions against the SWAC champions is scheduled to air live on ABC on December 18.
The MEAC started in 1969 and has seen several member schools come and go ever since. Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M both left the conference in 2020 for the rival SWAC, which is widely seen as Black college football’s premier conference. It was founded in 1920.
Because of the coronavirus, the MSR for the first time attended both conference’s football media days in July. Following are excerpts from both events.
“I feel I have the best job in America,” said Delaware State’s Rod Milstead, who is in his second year of coaching at his alma mater. “I get paid to do a job I love at the place I love.” His Hornets are members of the MEAC.
“Historically Black colleges have had great coaches,” added Howard Coach Larry Scott, who calls the MEAC “a great football conference.”
MEAC Commissioner Dennis Thomas, who announced his intention to retire after nearly 20 years at the helm, briefly spoke of his job when asked by a reporter. “It’s no question to see student-athletes develop and grow as people as individuals, and to see them coming in as freshmen trying to find their way, trying to understand the environment, and trying to make it all work, that gives me great joy, always has,” said the commish.
Jackson State Coach Deion Sanders, whose Tigers play in the SWAC, told the MSR, “I see a plethora of kids that can play this game to the high level. We got to get a spotlight and a light on these kids so they are visible. We got to find out more ways to make these kids more visible.”
This is Sanders’ first college job, hired last September. The 2011 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee has been coaching for over a decade, including offensive coordinator at a Texas high school. We asked him about his transition to college coaching: “My biggest adjustment most likely is expectation,” said Sanders. “I’m a go-getter. I’m a hustler. I make things happen.
“I can’t expect everything to happen as expeditiously as I would like,” he said, “so I had to occupy a little patience, a little wisdom, a little understanding, not only for the kids but also to the coaches, administrators, everyone involved in college football.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.