By William A. Foster, IV
“A state without some means of change is without the means of its conservation.” – Edmund Burke
Something we should be clear on. There is no benefit for European American owned media companies to showcase HBCU sports or events. Nor their companies in general to provide more than token sponsorship which we continuously chase. It is not profitable for them socially or economically. The reality is HBCUs are Division 1-AA and Division II schools. HBCUs or not – only the Division 1-A six power conferences (SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, Big East, ACC) will ever be on European American owned channels. We know that even if all the best African American athletes returned to HBCUs they would still not be on television. The reality is it is less about the players on the field and more about the people in the stands. Even in pre-desegregation when HBCUs had the better talent they were not placed on television. You can say this was because of outright racism or you can look at the economics of it then and now. The demographics start with that at almost all of these HWCUs in the six power conferences are predominantly European American. By predominantly I’m speaking of 80% or more. They also have always been able to bring in 50,000 plus at football stadiums and 10,000 plus at basketball consistently. They have larger student population and alumni bases. Something one could argue we could have had by now but a mixture of desegregation and heavy domestic recruitment has limited that growth. The current median net worth of European America is approximately $98,000 versus African America’s approximately $2,200. Given that reality, who would you feature on television? Let me help you even further. In 2007, the buying power of European Americans in California was $1.1 trillion and the buying power for all of African America was approximately $850 billion according to the University of Georgia’s Terry School of Business. That’s just the economics of it. Unfortunately, we sold off BET to Viacom, we are only a minority stake in TVOne, and OWN, while 50% co-owned by Oprah Winfrey, clearly is a channel not focused on catering to the African American demographic.
As such we need to focus on taking a different approach. First, what is clear is that we need to move first in creating super conferences. We can do this by a realignment which is badly needed regardless. Right now there are five HBCU conferences – we need to add a sixth and maybe a seventh. Currently, in the five HBCU conferences there are a total of 55 teams. That means roughly only 50% of HBCUs are in an HBCU conference. Schools like Central State University and Wilberforce University both located in Ohio, Langston University in Oklahoma, and Texas College in Texas are left to fend for themselves in non-HBCU conferences. Why they have not been extended an invite in football hotbeds is both the short sightedness of our conferences; as well in part due to the geographic nature of them which is why I’m suggesting the realignment that is more geographically and financially friendly. It would also do us well to include schools that are not traditional HBCUs like Roxbury Community College in Massachusetts, Medgar Evers in New York, Chicago State in Illinois, and a school without an undergraduate but would be worth the investment to build one in Charles Drew University in California. This would give us a coast to coast presence in every city with a dominant African American presence and allow for the establishment of seven HBCU conferences with fifteen schools in each conference.
Given that football and basketball are still the dominant revenue sports, at the moment, we could then have a twelve team playoff in football to determine the HBCU national football champion and a sixteen or thirty-two team HBCU basketball tournament. The events would be focused in major African American populated cities so that we’d be able to attract a large general African American population who might want to be a part of the event even if they are not attached to a certain HBCU. The cities would be (in order of largest African American populations) New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Houston, Memphis, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and Dallas. All of which have African American populations 300,000 and above. There of course would be allowances for cities like New Orleans and Atlanta who have a geographical strategic advantages along with a strong cultural connection to HBCUs and African America as a whole to host events which would be approved by the conferences. Ultimately, HBCUs will make the majority of their money with major events not television money. An event planning company owned by the seven conferences will coordinate the HBCU football playoffs and basketball tournament. HBCUs with public access channels and television studios will produce, air, and stream online the events. So while the television money isn’t there the accumulation of social capital would be there. The student-athletes would be on television unlike their Division 1-AA and Division II counterparts and HBCUs would find themselves in front of more African American children which would lay the foundation for improving the paltry HBCU attendance number as it relates to percentage of African Americans who go to college choosing HBCUs. Currently, only 10-12 percent of African Americans who are college eligible are choosing HBCUs which has long-term implications on number of alumni and potential donors.
All of this said, as it relates to football and basketball, it will be a move towards a real investment in a strong soccer infrastructure now not later that can create a paradigm shift in HBCU sport financials and establish an immense global presence in the African Diaspora especially in Africa, Latin America, and Europe which constitutes a population of approximately a billion rabid soccer fans. The African Diaspora’s 4 wealthiest, all based in Africa, are worth a combined $28.1 billion. With Africa being the fastest growing continent economically there is an immense opportunity for recruitment of students, research, donors, sponsorship, and an African Diaspora who was in love with the Ghana Black Stars in the last World Cup. There were even a surprisingly large number of African Americans watching the team from Ghana. The move to soccer would do us well as African Americans as well given the realities of football both endangering African American men’s health and the enormous infrastructure cost that college football requires. Football is an American sport, quite possibly one who is witnessing its apex in American society, and demographics of globalization as well as youth sports, which show soccer has more children participants than football and basketball combined, indicate a shift has already occurred towards soccer. Pro soccer franchises are second only to NFL franchises in terms of average value and that is without a strong presence in America, yet. Forming dominant college soccer franchises lends us the opportunity to not only tap the African American consumer but the African Diaspora consumer.
It is clear the times of us being passive and taking a wait and see what our counterparts are doing has left us in dire straits far too often. We would do well to be out ahead of the curve for once instead of chasing it.