Black College football: Playoffs or Classics?

I’ve received a few e-mails recently on this subject and I wanted to put it out for discussion….

Am I in favor of postseason playoffs or big-money Classic games for HBCU programs?

First of all, I’ve heard interesting and emotional debates on both sides and personally, I’m all about making money – especially where we are with the economy right now.

There was two specific examples were brought to my attention – how far could Grambling have gone in the Football Championship Series (formerly Division I-AA) playoffs if it didn’t play in the Bayou Classic and SWAC championship game and how far Tuskegee might’ve gone in the Division II playoffs instead of playing in the Turkey Day Classic.

Anyone can speculate on how far the teams could’ve gone (both teams were very good last year), but I guess it’s fair to speculate that both programs earned a lot of money in their Classic games, money that can be used throughout the respective athletic departments. And the tradition associated with the Classic games? Priceless ….

But I also heard from someone who said it’s time to stop living in the past and step up to the plate. It was noted that Florida A&M won the first I-AA national title in 1978 and there hasn’t been an HBCU winner since. There hasn’t been an HBCU national champion in Division II since the division held its first title game in 1973. South Carolina State and Albany State were the HBCU representatives in the respective playoffs last season, and both fell in the first round.

So, what do you think? Are you cool with the current setup or are you ready to see more HBCUs on the national stage? Or is there a way to make both happen?

I’ve thrown out what’s been said to me and I’m very interested to hear what others think. So let the discussion begin …..

43 comments Add your comment


August 13th, 2009
2:20 pm

I think that it is ok the way it is. I was a Sr. @ Albany State the year we went to the Simi-finals (2005 or 2004) and lost to valdost St. with a because of a 2nd half comeback win in the rain that messed up my new shirt and made me late to work. We were close and suffered our only loss of the season, and was the only team to beat the national champion that year. Valdosta State. I do wish that the top four black schools should be able to play in 2 seperate games and be placed afterward as the HBCU National champ and ranking 1-4. That would help recruiting, and get our HBCU’s much needed prime time marketing! GO RAMS… Number 1 HBCU in our great UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.!!


August 13th, 2009
2:45 pm

Well Leo, being a former player and graduate of AAMU I think that the school benefits the most from the school playing a Classic or Championship game. Why, becuase of the revenue that is generated and the importance that is placed on creating something special for the institution. Granted an HBCU can compete on a national stage however you have to make it so that you have a plus one game that allows these schools to gain access to the national stage. Great column Leo I would like to add that HBCU’s need to be more aggressive in signing more talented players and the only way that’s going to happen is that the Divison 1-AA HBCU’s get together and push for regional TV rights so that these kids get the exposure that is warranted.

Add Seymour

August 13th, 2009
3:51 pm

There has to be a way that BOTH can happen for HBCUs. HBCUs will always play in Classic games – at Tennessee State, our three of our first four games are long-standing Classic games (the fourth is a game against Southern which in its on way is a Classic-like game). Then we spend the rest of the OVC season gearing up for a run at the I-AA playoffs. So Classic games and NCAA playoff games for HBCUs can definitely work.
But a championship game should also be able to work. Most of the D-1 conferences have championship games and could (should, actually) do a playoff schedule throughout December. HBCU conferences should maybe back their seasons up a week or work with the NCAA to make the schedules conducive. So there can be championship games and then playoff games. There’s no reason it can’t work.


August 13th, 2009
4:10 pm

Play in the playoffs. Measure yourselves versus other quality programs. There is no reason that what’s being achieved at App State can’t occur at one of the HBCU’s. As long as the schools only compete amongst themselves, they will never get better and never win titles.

BTW – SCSU played well at App State.


August 13th, 2009
6:10 pm

It’s a sell out for HBCUs not to compete for a national championship in football. For all those who did not have the chance to compete as equals with the other universities in the championship series, current HBCUs should be ashamed. Some things are not always about the money. Has the SWAC championship game ever made a profit? It is a forgotten game, even for the fans of the schools that participate. The return on winning a national championship would cover any return from a somewhat meaningless conference win. It you cannot have the classics and compete in the championship series, drop the classic.

Sugar Hill Dawg

August 13th, 2009
6:30 pm

I’m a UGA grad, so I’m looking at the issue without a dog in the fight, but….I used to live in northern Louisiana (Barksdale AFB in Bossier City), and I can tell you the Southern vs Grambling State game was THE state game of the year. The bands, the fans, the pride on the line – you name it, it was (and, I guess, it still is) life and death! I grew up an LSU fan, saw the light, and attended America’s finest university, but I have to say the GA – FLA game has NOTHING on SU – GSU! One of these days I’ll go downtown to a Morehouse game and see if the vibe is still alive in the HBCU environment. As a player, I’d love the chance to get a ring with National Champs on it, but….I’d hate to see the Classic games fall by the wayside.


August 14th, 2009
2:05 am

I know its about money. Would have loved to see how ‘Skegee and Grambling would have done in the playoffs (NCAA). I hate seeing the SIAC, SWAC, CIAA sending the second best team in some cases to the NCAA playoffs…The tradition and the money from the classics I don’t see the HBCU’s giving that up anytime soon – at least the money makers that are played after the NCAA playoffs start. Don’t like the idea of a playoff, I do favor the HBCU’s taking on some of the local “backyard” teams (Troy State, Valdolsta State, West Georgia….etc) more often during the regular season. National stage – more and more colleges are starting football programs (Georgia State, Lagrange Georgia, Old Dominion..competing for recruits) and I fear HBCU’s ability to compete on the “national level” difficult – if that is a concern. I could be wrong but I do think TSU saw the writing on the wall.


August 14th, 2009
9:32 am

Until the Financial model of the FCS and DII playoffs changes the choice will be a no-brainer. In the playoffs to host games you have to pay the NCAA and the NCAA gets most of the money off the gate. If you’re a road team the NCAA will pay your teams travel expenses, but nothing else (no band, no cheerleaders, no extras). Tuskegee, Grambling, Southern, and Alabama State are not going to give up guaranteed 6 figure paydays for a chance to pay the NCAA to be in their playoffs. That would be sheer stupidity!

Al Beeski

August 14th, 2009
9:35 am

Whassup Leo, I’m an Albany St. grad(95)and attend several games here and on the road every year. There have been very few HBCU teams in D-II which could actually compete for a national title. As a matter of fact, the only teams in the past 15 years with an above average shot was Hampton ~96 (before they joined MEAC), Albany State in ‘05, and the Tuskegee team in ‘07. Therefore, on the field there have not been many teams with the talent to win a national title.I totally understand the financial windfall and the tradition that goes along with playing in these classics. That being said the HBCUs should honor their tradition and continue playing in these classics, but play them earlier in the year so they can qualify for postseason play and give these student-athletes a chance to win a national championship. Consequently, the schools would get much more publicity and financial success if they actually won a national title.

Reality Check

August 14th, 2009
10:27 am

I think the day of the Classic has come and gone. It’s nice that a five or six schools get the added attention from playing these games. But only two get the benefit of getting any major TV exposure from it. We have tons of talented teams and players. For our teams to truly be national programs at the I-AA level and have the chance to develop real long term chances at Division I, we must enter into and succeed int he Division II and I-AA playoff structure. Otherwise we will continue to be marginal football teams that only get the light of day as a group once or twice a year.

Southern Jaguar Fan

August 14th, 2009
11:30 am

Leo, this is a great question? Among those of us in SWAC circles, this question has been tossed around quite a bit for quite some time.

I honestly would rather the Classics, and I say that for one reason only. From what I know, HBCUs don’t have the financial support that others school do. Those “classics” allow HBCUs to a fairly sizeable payday that I don’t believe they could get in a playoff.

Also, with regards to competing in playoffs, some schools would lose out on many of the “traditions” (Bayou Classic during Thanksgiving weekend), and so forth, if some schedule juggling were to take place.

Keep up the great work Leo, and keep the questions, news and updates coming….!!!!


August 14th, 2009
12:46 pm

It is a hilarious and disingenuous debate in many ways.

There is a very obvious jealousy and bias against the HBCUs from the majority institutions in FCS and DII. First and foremost, few of those schools can ever dream of the revenue HBCUs derive from the “Classics”. The only way they generate revenue is from the payday games from FBS schools – which HBCUs are mysteriously almost totally shut out of (there are even majority schools that have NEVER played a single game in their program’s history – Georgia State and South Alabama – that are on the schedule’s of FBS schools).

The SWAC has led 1AA or the FCS 29 of the last 30 years in attendance. So what you do? Play in a money losing, nobody watching playing, or play on national TV in front of 60-70,000 fans while generating 100s of thousands of dollars.

And, there is NO better marketing that an HBCU can do than the Classics, putting your school in front of thousands of potential students and parents several times a year.

It is funny to hear complaints from fans of schools who participate in the BCS while shunning a true playoff. The BCS is not about selecting a true national champion, but generating $$$ which the classics do for FBS teams.


August 14th, 2009
1:52 pm

As an AAMU grad I say if D1 doesn’t believe in playoffs then why should we. Small schools lose money in playoff scenarios when you factor in travel costs and other detracting factors. Lets be honest, the level of talent is way down at HBCU’s right now and I don’t know if any school (Grambling included) can challenge for national title.


August 14th, 2009
7:23 pm

HBCUs need to come into the 21st century and integrate the classic games into the regular season and compete for national championships. It will raise the profile of the playoffs, and HBCUs.


August 15th, 2009
2:50 am

Who really cares about a championship game played in Florence Al. or Chattanooga Tn. that will probally be played in the cold, rain or cold and rain. HBCU’s will be looking for a check for playing in post season games. Well guess what, after expenses guess who gets to keep the rest of the money. It’s not the schools but the NCAA.


August 16th, 2009
2:35 pm

I think there should be a way to do all, conference title game, classic, and playoffs. Go to a 10 game schedule title game then classic is the tune up game for playoffs. We should reward teams that when their conference title game by alowing them to play in the classic and then the following week play in the playoffs.


August 16th, 2009
3:05 pm

i dont understand why it is either/or…the big problem is schools insist on playing thanksgiving weekend, which is when the playoffs are underway….i dont know if or how the florida classic has been hurt by moving from thanksgiving, but i think they have done pretty good at the box office since they moved and both schools are still eligible for championship play…and unless you aspire to be the best in your conference and division what’s the use…i look forward to the year i can say hampton won the battle of the bay, the whitney young classic (or whatever) the and national championship…


August 16th, 2009
3:35 pm

It is time to compete on a bigger scale. Both situations can work, if the powers (and supporters’ money) that be want them to. A participating NCAA member shuld compete for the title, they deserve to.


August 16th, 2009
4:46 pm

Again, the issue really ISN’T the Classic games here! HBCUs CAN play classics all day and then play in NCAA playoff games. The issue is the conference championship games. The SWAC title game and I guess the MEAC title games are played after the I-AA playoffs start. THAT is the problem!

Tennessee State joined the predominatly white (well, it’s the only HBCU) Ohio Valley Conference not because the school saw handwriting on the wall. TSU was always an HBCU independent and travel costs were tooo high! The OVC affords less travel costs for TSU. The other issue is legal – TSU was in a loooong court fight over whether the state’s historically black schools were funded equally as other schools. The result was a settlement that left TSU officially known as a racially-non-identifiable institution. (Check the small print, you’ll see!) During that period in the late 80s and early 90s, the move to the OVC, though big time unpopular, fell into this thinking. So TSU goes to the OVC but gets a conference waiver to play an additional “traditional” i.e. black, opponent. So TSU plays four black schools at the beginning of the season, three in Classic games (some seasons, all four).

All the SWAC and MEAC have to do is fix their schedules by moving their seasons back a week or two or stop playing a championship game and get in the NCAA playoffs. The conferences would lose one big game at the end of the season, but only two of however many conference schools (many of those conference schools NEVER play in that game) play in the championship game anyway. THEY CAN PLAY ALL THE CLASSICS THEY WANT. GET RID OF THE CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME AND DO AS THEY DID BEFORE AND LET THE SEASON DETERMINE THE CONFERENCE WINNER. THEN PLAY IN THE NCAA PLAYOFFS AND KICK THESE OTHER SCHOOLS’ BUTTS!

Warren Jones

August 17th, 2009
2:07 pm

I have always that it should be a playoff system. It will never happen because the Bayou Classic brings so much money to Grambling and Southern. It would be nice to happen, but a possibilty is that the winner of the SWAC and MEAC should meet up like they did previously in a big bowl game at the end of the year. The MEAC needs to get out of the Division 1-AA playoffs and have a playoff system like SWAC and winners of SWAC and MEAC play for true Black College Championship. It is a start and could be something similiar like the Heritage Bowl and maybe they could get better sponsorship than they did before.


August 17th, 2009
2:19 pm

HBCU’s have more talent than most of these teams that win the national title at the 1-aa schools level but the difference is clearly in the coaching and preparations. With the exception of 3 classic football games the promoters are making all the money and the HBCU’s are being used. They are the following the Florida Classic, Bayou Classic and the Atlanta Football Classic are the only ones were the schools truly benefit from it and the rest are pimping at it’s best. I don’t one to see a Black College Champion but I would like to see a National Champion. And the team to make that run this year is Florida A&M university because they have the best college coaching in 1-aa.


August 19th, 2009
10:02 am

Simple solution, send the conf. champ to the play-offs and send the No. 2 or designee to the classic. Also the perspective is simply this, it cost say an SIAC school thousand to go across country to compete in DIV II. It pays to play a classic. Revenues vs. expenses. That is on the Div. II level. In the Div. 1 AA level i’m sure these altheletic directors did not spend all there time and efforts getting these schools Div. 1 ready not to send the best teams to the play-offs. The Hamptons, FAMU’s and other DIV 1 schools should send the team that is eligible or selected to the play-offs.


August 19th, 2009
3:58 pm

Why in dahell would someone want to be a Divisional or Regional Champ. It’s all about being known as the Best period. Those conference champs games are bunch of losers. SWAC, get off your high horse and become a real winner. The FCS NCAA playoffs is alot better fit because it proves who can win, coach, play, and survive. If the MEAC decides to have a conference champ game instead of playing in the playoffs, then you can best believe FAMU will be leaving that conference. We’re trying to accomplish something on a national level, not a HBCU level, that’s worthless. Why would you want to be the best HBCU, get out of the Chittlin’ circuit people. Open your clouded minds. If you become Champions, the money will follow. FAMU can play the FL Classic game and still make the playoffs once they win the MEAC Conference, not no Heritage or MEAC vs SWAC Champ game, get real.


August 19th, 2009
10:16 pm

The classic games are worth more in pride and spirit to me as a former player at Da’ House than the playoffs per say. Granted we never got that far but the operating costs of football at West Ga. or VSU is different than in the HBCU’s, plus check our attendance records. What we could really use is the Pioneer and the Heritage Bowl back! Play them on the same day at the same venue. For example, the Ga. Dome at 1pm for the Pioneer and 6:30 for the other one. Let the bands rock in the middle.

The Classic games can’t be thrown away that is the only way to keep the teams afloat. Tuskegee needs the Turkey Bowl money to still field the team they have.

The TSU argument is pointless, until TSU plays in the playoffs! The playoffs in FCS and D-II are money losing opportunities!


August 23rd, 2009
5:08 pm

It’s not fair to the players. They deserve to compete for the national championship. You play to win it all. Not for some bragging rights over one game. Tuskegee can brag all day about they’re better than Alabama State but they cant say they’re National Champions. If the rivalry is so important, set it for another date.


August 25th, 2009
6:11 am

Tbanks…….TSU was in playoffs in 98 and 99


August 25th, 2009
10:10 am

Does anybody know the average cost for hosting a HBCU in a classic.


August 25th, 2009
2:05 pm

Who cares? Lets be real. Folks only go to HBCU games to socialize and for the halftime show anyway.


August 26th, 2009
1:14 pm

Until we get together and start sending the top black atheletes to HBCU’s rather than to your great white colleges that pimp them and make millions off them and give nothing back we are going to have to live with and become extinct.


August 29th, 2009
12:18 pm

THE THING IS……REVENUE???.Do the black colleges have the earned capital to travel to the locations for such playoffs.Then besides the Classics,will the student body SUPPORT THEM WITH TICKET SALES. If not, have a playoff system that have games in big market areas.Nashville,Tn. Atlanta,Ga.Baltimore,Md.B’ham,Al. Then have a championship in the dome in New Orleans. then alternate sites to keep the revenue coming.


August 30th, 2009
1:42 pm

If it is and always will be about the money. Then… HBCU’s should form a conference with 11 teams from the bigger football schools TSU, JSU, FAMU, SCST, NCA&T, Bethune, GRAM, Southern TEX SOUTH, ALA A&M,,. Howard, & HAMPTON.(criteria could be school enrollment stadium size etc) and get a instant bid to the 1-AA playoffs and not get jobed as we always seem to do!

Two divisions 10 games just look at the week to week INSTANT classics and revenue $$. Each team is REQUIRED to play a 11th MONEY GAME EX: natural rivarly JSU vs MSVS or Howard v Morgan prefer a DIV 1 school like FAMU (MIA) does get $250k per $2,750,000 per season from those games alone! That kind of revenue is generated for the conference and non revenue producing sports Not including the regular season games. Come on presidents and AD’s This is a NO BRAINER! Why do you think Boston College and MIA Fla State Joined the ACC? as the O’Jays once said in a CLASSIC MONEY MONEY MONEY YES WE CAN

Decatur 4 Life

September 1st, 2009
10:13 am

You FAMU fans make me laugh, you guys do all this talking about playing the big boys and going to the playoffs but you don’t stand a chance. Maybe back in the day but not now. Back then you could compete better because HBCUs weren’t losing as many black athletes to larger white institutions. Now with so many schools out there playing major D-1 football it’s a lot more to deal with, the best players go everywhere except to HBCUs. The ones that do end up at HBCUs have off the field issues or problems with grades. So going to the playoffs now or playing the big schools, although can be exciting, doesn’t make much sense.
(Or cents)


September 8th, 2009
8:49 am

I say stay with the Classic concept and if anything, try to reignite the Heritage Bowl and have the MEAC and SWAC meet, or do it really big and have a doubleheader with the CIAA and SIAC champs meeting as well.

As others have said, college football is a MONEY making proposition and Classic games, especially around the Thanksgiving holiday make money. You notice teams want to move up from the playoff division to the bowl division and not the other way around? Plus here’s a dirty little secret about NCAA football playoffs. THEY LOSE MONEY! If not for being subsidized by the money the NCAA gets from Division 1-A (BCS subdivision) many schools wouldn’t even play in it at all. One D-1-AA conference, the Ivy League. chooses not to have its teams play in the football playoffs at all.

Black colleges need to have the same vision as the BCS Presidents. Don’t kill the goose that is laying the golden eggs by buying into to playoffs. Stick with the way you are doing things.


September 9th, 2009
9:53 am

BET should show hbcu games and help support it i would love to see it on tv alot more


September 11th, 2009
9:41 am



September 12th, 2009
3:01 pm

Under coach Billy Joe, FAMU moved the Florida Classic so that they could compete in the 1AA playoffs. That was one of the best moves that he could have done, because the Classic actually got bigger. The Florida Classic competes, and in some years has exceeded the attendance at the Bayou Classic. The purpose of having different divisions in college football is that it allows schools with similar resources to compete on a national level. The only way that we can compete for resources is compete on a national level. If you compete and win you will get the same recruits that a Ga Southern or an Appalachian state gets. It seems that most HBCUs settle for the status quo and with that mind set we will always have second rate athletic programs. There were several Southern teams in the mid/early ’90s that would have competed for the 1-AA championship. My argument is purely academic because they chose the Bayou Classic over the 1-AA playoffs. I always tell my Southern and Grambling that the Bayou Classic will draw a large crowd even if the game was held in the middle of July. It’s the game, the Classic, that everyone is attached, not the date. I am actually supporting a FAMU (with BCC) move to the Southern Conference. It costs us too much money to travel to play non-competitive schools such as Winston Salem State, Howard, NC A&T, and Morgan State. We will make more money in the long run by building our fan base in Tallahassee. The schools in the Southern Conference are more competitive and are closer to Tallahassee. We still can play TSU and BCC in two of the top classics in HBCU football…..Bottom line TRADITION does not pay the bills or put fans in the seats.


September 29th, 2009
4:20 pm

Yes, HBCU should compete for national title. I think when JSU competing for a national title and the SWAC our program went down. We used to always get good skills players on offense and defense, our only weakneass was the offense line and the kicking game when we played the other FCA teams. All that needs to happen is to get the FCA to start the playoffs one week later and break the teams into regionals for the first round then go by seed for the next round. HBCU must start competing to be the best not just the best HBCU. In my opinion we have lower our standard.


October 20th, 2009
6:55 pm

HBCU’s have been selectively excluded from the playoffs. Grambling and Southern removed themselves when the NCAA changed the playoff schedules and that change conflicted with the Bayou Classic. Do the math regarding revenue. Why was the rest of the league denied? Since 1978, I know of only two times that an HBCU has hosted a playoff game. One time TSU and SCSU were allowed in the playoffs, they played each other. One year SCSU was 10-1 and denied participation. And, the beat goes on. It is clear that the NCAA accepts membership fees from HBCUs but denies them equtable participation in its playoff system.

It is my opinion that HBCUs develop a system of classics and further build their programs. As Charlie Neal said during this year’s MVU/Alcorn game, “there are more Black players from HBCUs in the NFL Hall of Fame than there are in the NCAA Football Hall of Fame.” Do you smell something here? I think this is systematic exclusion and should be addressed. In the meantime, why don’t we do our own thing? There have been IAA championship games with less that a 10,000 fan attendance. Grambling and Souther draw more than that for the Friday-before-the-game battle of the bands.

Let’s wake up and say, “NCAA, forget you!”

james grisby

October 21st, 2009
2:39 pm

i would like to enter in the online contest please may i have information thank you.

james grisby

October 21st, 2009
2:42 pm

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December 18th, 2009
11:10 am

As a current player in the SWAC, it pains me to watch college football playoffs, knowing the talent on our teams is just as comparable as any team in the country position-by-position. Sure, our teams might not have a great track record competing well in playoffs, but that’s the name of the game. ALERT: MONEY IS NOT THE NAME OF THE GAME. You play to win it all. A conference championship, especially for prospective NFL players, is not “it all”; it just shows our ability to compete against each other. What will that prospect do against another FCS school on a big stage? Guess we’ll never know… we need to let the past go and compete. We’ll never know what happens if we don’t try, and can’t keep using past results to predict our future. Stop making it about the school and make it about the actual team reppin the school. We lost to PVAM, but I’d even like to watch them and see what they’d do. It’s a new day


December 18th, 2009
11:17 am

And what better way to get recruiting than to make the playoffs every year?! If you’re not that good, get better!!! That’s the nature of any program in any conference on any level; you don’t get national exposure or great revenue if you don’t win. Look at Northeastern, look at Hofstra; predominately white, predominately gone. People, especially of the older generations, understand that your “tradition” means nothing to players that come from outside the SWAC; we want to win. And to get duped to coming to a school without knowing that the best chance to win isn’t available sucks. Who wants to go to a school that isn’t good AND has no chance to escape its conference? Change the schedules so all the classics and conference championships can get in BEFORE THE PLAYOFFS START like any other NORMAL RIVALRY GAME on any other level, get whatever money you need to get, and give our teams a chance to go further, even if its just one every year. This doesn’t make any sense to me.

[...] a while now, but it’s good to see that the debate is fresh on the minds of mainstream media. Leo Willingham of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution weighed in on the discussion on his HBCU Football…, in a fence-riding kind of way. But his ultimate perspective is one I share. First of all, I’ve [...]

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