Commentary: A Perfect season in an imperfect system

by Donal Ware

You can’t argue with perfection. And that’s exactly what the North Carolina A&T Aggies are.


By virtue of their 21-14 victory over Gambling in Saturday’s Celebration Bowl, the Aggies have done something that no other Division I HBCU has even done and that is to go undefeated in a season. On Monday, A&T was voted BOXTOROW HBCU national champions for the second time in three seasons.

From drubbing Gardner-Webb at its place, 44-3 to open the season, to holding on to defeat FBS Charlotte on the road, to coming from behind to beat Bethune-Cookman, the Aggies got it done.

And what a battle we saw between the best two teams the last three seasons in Black College Football. This was the best of the three Celebration Bowls. A&T quarterback Lamar Raynard’s one-yard touchdown sneak with 38 seconds remaining broke a 14-14 tie. Grambling quarterback DeVante Kincade was spectacular, really electrifying at times in this game. The one mistake he made was a huge interception he threw in the third quarter as the Tigers were driving with the scored tied at 7-7 having all the momentum, a lot of which carried over from the first half when Kincade threw the first of his two touchdown passes with 43 seconds remaining in the first half.

The interception changed the whole momentum of the game, but Aggie cornerback Mac McCain really made a spectacular play, intercepting the ball right inside the pylon.  There were a lot of stars coming into this game. Kincade. Carter. Raynard. Bell. Just to name a few. The game was awesome in person and I’m sure looked great on ABC as well. It drew a 1.7 overnight rating on ABC, with 2,357,000 people watching, down from the 1.83 the game between North Carolina Central and Grambling drew last year and down from the 1.89 Alcorn/A&T drew in 2015. But the game was the second most watched collegiate event that day and fourth most watched sporting event, behind Chargers/Chiefs, Bears/Lions and the Las Vegas Bowl between Boise State/Oregon, which immediately followed the Celebration Bowl.

For the last couple of weeks I have been talking on BOXTOROW and the Wallace and Ware HBCU Football Podcast about an HBCU Football College Football Playoff. Listen, if we are going to have the Celebration Bowl, we need to be serious about it. All in, particularly now that SWAC has eliminated its championship game and said in a release, announcing that the championship game would no longer be played, “With the creation of the Celebration Bowl as a national showcase for HBCU football, the Council of Presidents and Chancellors decided to suspend the championship game format after the 2017 season,” said Commissioner Duer Sharp.

“By focusing on the Celebration Bowl, we can continue to grow the AFRCB as an HBCU classic for the teams and fans of both conferences and for HBCU football nationally.”

That is what Sharp said at the time. He is now out as commissioner.

So why not have a Division I HBCU football college playoff? Just like in the CFP, a committee would select the top four teams, which would also include Tennessee State if they don’t win the OVC or is not invited to the FCS Playoffs. Play the first round games on a neutral site or on the respective campuses. The winners of those games would meet in the Celebration Bowl.

This will generate more interest in the Celebration Bowl and more revenue for the schools. Remember when we were sold on the fact that each SCHOOL was getting the $1 million, not each conference? Here is where the winners of the semi-final of each game can benefit financially.

The Celebration Bowl is indeed a wonderful event. But the event has been down in attendance each year since the inaugural game in 2015. Thirty-five thousand, five hundred twenty-eight was the attendance in 2015. The attendance was down by about 4,000 in 2016 and the attendance in the final boxscore Saturday read 16,701; although I can tell you from what I saw, there were way more people than that and I base that on what I’ve seen in person the previous two years.

The $1 million that the SWAC and MEAC each receive is a solid start, but is it the value of what each of the conferences and its schools is worth? Sure, the fact that the game is played on ABC is huge. And even A&T head coach Rod Broadway said in his postgame press conference that admission as a whole at A&T increased after the Aggies appearance in the 2015 game, directly correlated to the Aggies appearance in the game.

But we as HBCUs should place more value on our worth. We need to dictate more of our terms instead of being dictated to. One million dollars split 10 ways in the SWAC is only $100,000 for each school and just over $111,000 for the now nine schools in the MEAC.

We have to remember how special we are. It’s no mistake why SWAC and MEAC are the only FCS conferences that has the deal it has with ESPN. The schools in the conferences have history; more history than schools in other conferences. There was a time when Black folks didn’t have a choice but to go to these schools. Some of the greatest players to ever play in the National Football League went to our schools. The support is there. There’s no mistake why SWAC leads FCS in attendance year in and year out. Furthermore, the demographic of those who are more likely to watch the games is attractive to advertisers. I do like the fact that the game is on ABC and that it kicks off the Bowl season.

But money needs to talk more.

I’ll say this again; while the terms of the current deal with ESPN are more than any FCS conference has it doesn’t mean we have to settle for it.

ESPN Events does a great job of putting on the game and the exposure provided by ABC is wonderful, more so for the two teams participating.

At the end of the day, the conferences have a responsibility to its members. And what these institutions need is money.

Follow Donal on Twitter and send your comments to him @dware1

Editor’s note: The teams that participate in the Celebration Bowl actually receive about half of the $1 million. The conferences then get their portion and share the rest with the teams.

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