Howard University is my alma mater and I’m extremely proud of my school’s legacy. Our alumni are among the nation’s most accomplished professionals and entertainers in a wide variety of fields.
Alas, the football field isn’t one of them.
Although we’ve produced about two dozen NFL players, including 10-year veteran Antoine Bethea of the San Francisco 49ers, we excel much more in suits and ties opposed to helmets and shoulder pads.
My fellow Bison and I are a bit down after the football team opened with blowout losses to Appalachian State and Boston College by the combined score of 125-0. Last week’s contest was particularly demoralizing, a 76-0 beatdown in Beantown.
The final could’ve been worse but the coaching staffs agreed to play 10-minute quarters in the second half, which kicked off with the Eagles holding a 62-0 lead.
We might come out on the short end Friday night at RFK Stadium, too, in the AT&T Nation’s Football Classic against Hampton University. But at least we’re facing a foe on our level, a peer from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
That hasn’t been the case for Howard or numerous other schools so far in the Football Championship Series, aka Division 1-AA.
During the season’s first two weeks, you almost could feel the pain when perusing scores that featured FCS squads visiting opponents in the Football Bowl Series, aka Division 1-A.
Ole Miss crushed Tennessee-Martin, 76-3. Memphis walloped Missouri State, 63-7. Washington thrashed Sacramento State, 49-0.
The scores can be even uglier for teams from the MEAC and the Southwestern Athletic Conference, comprised of historically black colleges and universities.
In addition to the shellacking Howard absorbed against BC, Colorado State stomped Savannah State, 65-13; Georgia Tech dismantled Alcorn State, 69-6; and California routed Grambling State, 73-14.
The big-boy schools aren’t gracious hosts. But at least the vanquished are sent home with something for their trouble, checks that range from $200,000 to seven figures.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, based on open records requests, Akron left Oklahoma with a check for $1 million after the Sooners’ romped to a 41-3 victory on Sept. 5. Two years ago, Oklahoma paid Louisiana-Monroe $1.1 million for participating in a 34-0 laugher.
These so-called “guarantee” games work two ways. The FBS school is (virtually) assured a W; the FCS school gets the $.
Sometimes the small-fry steals both prizes, as Maryland learned painfully when Bowling Green whipped the Terrapins Saturday, 48-27. Middling Power 5 schools might want to readjust their perception because the up-tempo Falcons also beat Indiana last year, 45-42.
“Guarantee,” or “paycheck” games are common in basketball, too. Power 5 schools often pad their pre-conference schedules with lower-division foes to create a de facto exhibition season. Howard’s men’s team lost to Miami last season, 84-49. Kansas throttled Emporia State, 109-56.
However, opponents of pay-to-slay football mismatches point out a big difference between contests on the gridiron versus the hardwood.
The biggest threats for lesser point guards are embarrassment and hurt feelings.
But overmatched halfbacks are at greater risk for broken bones and concussions.
Being paid to absorb punishment is a longstanding tradition in boxing, where “professional opponents” are paired with up-and-coming contenders en route to title shots. It’s a cold, hard business that serves its purposes for both parties, who know exactly what they signed up for.
That’s not necessarily the case in football, where the players don’t receive a direct benefit for the scheduled beatdowns. There’s also a troubling disparity in payouts at the school level, a bad visual when HBCUs generally receive less for the same type of games.
Even though the majority of players on the field might be black, it still feels uncomfortably close to the majority (schools) oppressing and exploiting the minority (schools). But the latter needs the money in a desperate way.
“I think it’s a necessary evil for smaller programs where funding continues to decrease,” Dr. Kristene M. Kelly, a sports management professor at Saint Augustine’s University, told theshadowleague.com. “…The landscape of higher education funding continues to dwindle, thereby requiring schools to take this route of guarantee games. The problem I have is that HBCUs are the lowest paid of ‘blowout for payout’ games.”
If they’re going to continue, equal pay for equal pain sounds like a fair equation to me.
But considering the degradation and potential debilitation – not necessarily in that order – the powers-that-be ought to seriously re-think the concept in football, for the student-athletes sake.
When it comes to basketball, though … “Check, please!”