By Terrance Harris | Houston Defender | Word In Black
(WIB) – The day we all knew was coming actually came this past weekend.
Celebrated Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion “Prime Time” Sanders left Jackson State to take over at Power 5 conference school University of Colorado. It was a move that was expected to happen at some point.
Coach Prime was never in Jackson, Miss. to stay.
So what does Jackson State, the SWAC, and HBCU football do now? For the past three seasons, Sanders and his giant personality showed us not just what long-struggling Jackson State football could be but what HBCU football could be in general.
There hasn’t been a bigger more well-known football personality strolling the HBCU sidelines since the late-great Eddie Robinson did so at Grambling State. There is an argument to be made that nobody, not even Robinson, has done it bigger.
Coach Prime brought his million-watt persona to Black College Football and with it came the national cameras and media attention that has never been seen in the history of HBCU football.
“Good Morning America” came through, so did “60 Minutes” and who can forget about ESPN’s GameDay traveling show making a rare HBCU stop this football season? Snoop and other celebrities also made their way to Jackson State for practices and games.
They weren’t there for Jackson State. They were there for Deion “Prime Time” Sanders.
But now that he is gone, does that mean the revenue-building attention and energy has left HBCU football as well?
The harsh reality is, yes. Even the sprinkle of high-profile recruits are starting to leave with former 5-star cornerback Travis Hunter announcing he has entered the transfer portal with intentions of following Coach Prime to Boulder, Colo.
But all isn’t lost. In the short time Sanders was there shining a light on Black College Football, he was also dropping important nuggets of knowledge about survival and how HBCU schools and conferences need to start thinking and moving to remain relevant.
The goal is to dominate where you are, not win, but to dominate where you are.DEION “PRIME TIME” SANDERS
Sanders challenged alumni, boosters and universities to invest in their athletic programs and facilities. He cautioned them against pimping out their football programs to Power 5 schools and “Classic” promoters for less money than they are worth.
“The goal is to dominate where you are, not win, but to dominate where you are,” said Sanders, who owes JSU $300,000 in buyout money for leaving with two seasons remaining on his contract.
“Then, you look towards down the line to scheduling some of those games,” Sanders said. “Right now, those games are a financial beatdown. That’s what I call them. That’s what some HBCUs choose to do. I’m going to go to these various schools, get my butt kicked, but I’m walking out of there with $750,000 or a million dollars. That’s not worth it to me. To me, that’s the ultimate sellout to children.
“I know I’m not going to win, I’m going to lose three or four players to injury and you’re going to humiliate my team and I’m going to have to build them back up the next week to play again. That doesn’t make any sense to me.”
And this season, the Jackson State Tigers didn’t have one Power 5 school or FBS game, also known as money games, on their schedule. That is unheard of for HBCU football programs because that’s not a way of padding their coffers but a way of survival for those athletic departments.
It’s a safe bet that Texas Southern coach Clarence McKinley and Prairie View A&M coach Bubba McDowell would love to walk into their respective boss’s offices and tell them to remove all Power 5 and FBS opponents from their schedules going forward. They would get laughed at.
As a result of not having to play those games, Jackson State (12-0) is enjoying its first undefeated season and Sanders is now reveling in the night-and-day resources and perks that come with coaching a Power 5 program.
For the left-behind Tigers and SWAC, the future seems uncertain. Jackson State and athletic director Ashley Robinson must now replace Sanders and that will be hard to do given his reach and pull.
SWAC commissioner Charles McClelland talked a week ago about the unprecedented ESPN television exposure the conference has enjoyed this season. That expectation was for it to continue and possibly grow in the years to come.
That was likely more a preemptive strike than it was the commissioner having his head in the sand.“We are excelling as a league,” McClelland said. “We are not where we want to be. We are going to continue to grow and get stronger, but the type of recognition we are getting on ESPN, it gives us the opportunity to grow.”
How that plays with “Prime Time” now gone remains to be seen.
But while people are taking the opportunity to take shots at Sanders for leaving a $300,000 per year job for one that pays $5 million, there is a strong argument that he has improved things for years to come at Jackson State, the SWAC and HBCU football in general.
Jackson State has a new football stadium coming, and the facilities have been improved greatly. The SWAC and HBCU football now know their worth and what is possible as long as they continue to invest in their product.