Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

HBCUs Break through to Join College Football Bowl Lineup

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

HBCUs Break through to Join College Football Bowl Lineup

Article excerpt

Historically Black colleges, once the prime source for a generation of the nations top professional football players, were once again back in the national spotlight last month when ABC placed two historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) center stage in this season's first college football bowl game.

North Carolina A&T State University (N.C. A&T), champion of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), and Alcorn State University, winner of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), were sent to Decembers Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl that was played in Atlanta's Georgia Dome and telecast nationwide on ABC as it kicked off the bowl season.

It was the first time in college football history that such a bowl pitted the two HBCU conference champions on a free television nationwide network broadcast. It reflected a rare opportunity for HBCUs to be recognized nationwide without paying the millions an institution might otherwise have to pay for such high-level brand name advertising.

The first-of-its-kind bowl game also represents a major risk for ABC and ESPN, the network's subsidiary that owns the Celebration Bowl and has put millions of dollars into it, including $1 million for each college conference. "There's a generation of people, like an underserved market, who know little or nothing about HBCUs," said John Grant, ESPN's executive director of the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl.

"To have your sporting event on a major network is really about recruiting students, not just student-athletes," said Grant, stressing the potential widespread impact a bowl appearance could have on an institution's future.

Grant, a former veteran executive of 100 Black Men of Atlanta, Inc., is not a newcomer to promoting college football events. He helped run the Atlanta Football Classic for many years, he said, and recalls the history of others. They are not easy tasks to pull together, stage and execute, but worth the challenge, he adds.

As for this bowl game, Grant said that ESPN signed a six-year contract with the two major HBCU athletic conferences to stage the Celebration Bowl and he sees it as a long-term investment and payout for the network and participating institutions. Each conference shares its $1 million bowl guarantee among member institutions based on a predetermined formula.

The Air Force Celebration Bowl was preceded by ABC's standard two-hour bowl season kickoff broadcast featuring a roster of college football legends. …

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