Let the Games Begin-Again: HBCU Coaches and Administrators Give Their Play-by-Play Accounts of the Benefits of Reviving College Football Programs

By Keels, Crystal L. | Black Issues in Higher Education, April 8, 2004 | Go to article overview

Let the Games Begin-Again: HBCU Coaches and Administrators Give Their Play-by-Play Accounts of the Benefits of Reviving College Football Programs


Keels, Crystal L., Black Issues in Higher Education


It's the pageantry, the precision, the rhythm and the music. It's wave after wave of energetic flute, trumpet, tuba and drum players wearing colorful uniforms and executing intricate steps. It's the dramatic dance moves and megawatt smiles of majorettes in short pleated skirts. It's the drum major whose kinetic energy electrifies them all. And it's all an important part of what football programs bring to historically Black colleges universities across the country.

"One thing washes the hand of the other," says Tim Abney, director of athletics and head women's basketball coach at Lincoln University of Missouri. After a 20-year absence, Lincoln's football program was reinstated in 1999. "We are excited to have it back. It ties into the whole atmosphere and is such a big thing," Abney says. "The enthusiasm it brings--the key word is tradition for HBCUs."

For those HBCUs that were forced to phase football out--for financial reasons, primarily--and were then able to phase it back in, the difference between having and not having football on campus is remarkable.

The football program at Allen University (South Carolina) met its demise in 1968, but was resurrected in 2001. Benedict College (South Carolina) saw the return of its program in 1995, after a 29-year hiatus. Edward Waters College (Florida) watched its program dissolve in 1967, but rebuilt it in 2001. After decades-long gaps of time the football programs at St. Augustine's (North Carolina), St. Paul's College (Virginia), Shaw University (North Carolina), Stillman College (Alabama) and Paul Quinn College (Texas) are once again in play. And the Central State University (Ohio) program, which was disbanded in 1996, joins the ranks of those to be reinstated later this year.

"Enrollment has increased; school spirit is at an all-time high since I've been here (and there are) more positive attitudes among the student body," explains Allen University athletic director/coach J. Ronald Sims. Sims, a former college athlete himself, says the decision to re-establish the football program was made before he came to Allen, a little over two years ago. He points out that the greatest challenge the football program poses is a financial one, but explains that a good football program yields several positives. Those benefits include the increased enrollment of quality students with good character who stay in school, Sims says, and students who--most importantly graduate.

Indeed, some sociological studies have suggested certain correlations between successful athletic programs and higher graduation rates, for the athletes themselves--who actually benefit from eligibility requirements, team study halls, and other such mechanisms designed to keep them in school and on the field--as well as for the student population in general.

GENERATING SCHOOL SPIRIT

Archie Cooley, football coach at Paul Quinn College, echoes similar sentiments and says it is clear to him how the restoration of the football program benefits the school. Football kicks off the entire year of athletic programs, he points out, and generates tremendous school spirit. He also explains that a winning team means even greater student enrollment, an even more enhanced educational program and significant benefits for everyone concerned.

"Students relate to football," Cooley says. "It improves education (and attracts) a better student and a better student athlete."

Cooley, who has coached in various capacities at a number of schools including Alcorn State, Tennessee State, Texas Southern University and Mississippi Valley State--where he counted NFL star Jerry Rice among his players--notes an 87 percent graduation rate at every school where he served as head coach.

He also explains the across-the-board allure of Black college football. Earlier in his coaching career, for example, at Mississippi Valley State with a student body of approximately 1,300 students, Cooley says it was necessary to move the team's games to nearby Jackson, in order to accommodate enthusiastic crowds of more than 67,000 people. …

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