The 2013 Black College football season had its share of memorable moments.
Among the highlights were five HBCUs making the NCAA playoffs – Bethune-Cookman, South Carolina State and Tennessee State in the FCS and Tuskegee and Winston-Salem State in Division II with Tennessee State and Winston-Salem winning first-round games and Bethune-Cookman defeating an FBS member for the first time in school history..
However, the 2013 season isn’t likely to be remembered for much of anything that took place on the field. Instead, two games that weren’t played, Jackson State’s homecoming contest against Grambling State and the CIAA Championship Game, will be the games that those who follow Black College football hark back to in years to come.
Jackson State’s Oct. 19 homecoming game against Gambling State was called off when disgruntled Grambling players staged a boycott and failed to board buses for the trip to Jackson, Miss. The CIAA Championship Game between two-time defending conference champion Winston Salem State and Virginia State was cancelled after a group of players from Virginia State beat up Winston-Salem’s starting quarterback in a bathroom the day before game was to be played.
“I don’t think there is any question about it because of the magnitude of those two incidents,’’ says Donal Ware, host of the nationally syndicated radio talk show From the Pressbox To Press Row.
Grambling players were upset with the school’s administration in the wake of Coach Doug Williams being fired two games into the season and displeased with the state of the athletic facilities. The boycott culminated a tumultuous week during which team members walked out of a meeting with Grambling President Frank Pogue and athletic director Aaron James to address Williams’ firing and skipped two days of practice.
“They did something that they thought they were right about,’’ Ware says. “No matter how you felt about it, it exposed a lot of negative stuff.’’
The boycott grabbed national headlines and generated stories that revealed the substandard condition of Grambling’s athletic facility, which included mold and mildew on the floor and walls in the locker room.
The nearly week-long boycott ended with team members returning to practice and Grambling forfeiting the game to Jackson State. The SWAC fined the school an unspecified amount, reportedly $20,000, and will require the G-Men to play at Jackson State the next three years to help the school recoup its financial losses, which are estimated to be in the millions of dollars Jackson State lost by not playing its homecoming game. Jackson State officials have said the school will take legal action against Grambling and others.
Lamont Britt, 22, a junior running back from Portsmouth City, Va., was arrested for his role in the attack on Winston-Salem All-CIAA quarterback Rudy Johnson in a bathroom during a luncheon honoring the teams the day before the conference championship game. Johnson suffered a swollen eye and a laceration above the eye. The conference declared Virginia State ineligible for postseason play, costing the Trojans a possible berth in the Division II playoffs, and opened an investigation into the incident. The investigation is ongoing. Meanwhile, Winston-Salem has said it will seek further sanctions against Virginia State.
“It’s embarrassing, unacceptable, bad and disappointing,’’ says ESPN College Football Analyst Jay Walker. It’s a black-eye for black college football.’’
The news around black college football wasn’t all bad, however. Bethune-Cookman defeated Florida International 34-13 on Sept. 14 for the Wildcats’ first victory ever against an FBS program. Bethune-Cookman rushed for 311 yards.