Grambling Needs To Stay In The SWAC And Not Listen To Rumblings

By Gregory Moore
Updated: January 4, 2006

SAN ANTONIO – I received an interesting e-mail today and when I read it, bells and whistles started going off in my head.

“Oh no,” I thought. “Not another HBCU thinking about going independent in NCAA competition”.

Yet that is exactly what this e-mail said as it turned out being sports op/ed piece. As a matter of fact the e-mail is actually an article from the Ruston Daily Leader written by their sports editor, O.K. “Buddy” Davis. It’s a good article for water cooler talk but it’s also a piece that could start something that would be very detrimental to Grambling State University and it’s a road that they do not need to even think about going. Mr. Davis says that Grambling needs to leave the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and become an independent. I say that Mr. Davis and the Grambling faithful might want to re-think their plans.

ONCE UPON A TIME, THE RATTLERS WANTED TO GO D-1 While Mr. Davis and many others may think there are greener pastures by becoming independent, what I see is another failure in Black college sports. It wasn’t that long ago that Florida A&M University had an athletic director and some boosters who thought that going Division 1 was the way to go. Ironically that thought came about because the football program was so dominant in the MEAC that many thought that the only way for this program to get any competition was to go up a ladder rung. In trying to make that move, the Rattlers were independent for one season. They scheduled four Division 1 football teams and got their collective rattlers taken away from them by those teams. Shortly after that season, Fred Gainous was fired and rightfully so.

But what was the sole purpose for then President Gainous to even think the football program was capable of being an independent powerhouse at the D-1AA level? What in the world would possess a school like FAMU to even think of such a move at that time? The only thing that I think could be influencing that decision at that time was the fact that they wanted ‘tougher’ competition and ironically this is probably what many at Grambling are thinking as well.

When the dust settled, FAMU returned to the MEAC conference. It was probably a humiliating experience for the school and the football program but right now it is the lesson that the Tigers should be looking at very closely. If Mr. Davis and the supporters of this idea think that Grambling’s football program is good enough to be an independent program at the Division 1-AA level, they will be in for a rude awakening. Grambling is nowhere close to being an independent than FAMU was in 2004.

SOME REALLY BIG DAWGS OUTSIDE OF THE SWAC Maybe what many supporters of Grambling don’t realize just how strong many of these 1-AA teams are. For example does head coach Melvin Spears truly believe that his team can match a powerhouse like Georgia Southern? I’m going to be very frank with the Grambling faithful. Your school’s football program isn’t strong enough to take on Texas State. Or Cal Poly, Northern Iowa, Montana or Eastern Washington. As a matter of fact the school’s team would probably not fare well against any of the Top 25 1-AA teams of this past season and oh, by the way, that includes schools like Harvard, Princeton and other ‘lesser’ Division 1 schools.

You see when I got finished reading Mr. Davis’ article, what I found was a story that had more smoke than substance. He quotes Howard Cossell when the late sports caster called Grambling the “Black Notre Dame”. Okay lets get some analogies straight for the moment. If it were not for Eddie Robinson, Grambling would not even be on the map of college football. If it were not for Robinson and a few others orchestrating the Bayou Classic between Southern and Grambling, black college football as we know it would not even have the ‘outside’ audience that it is slowly gaining today. More importantly Grambling is not the only HBCU that many people will come up against. FAMU, Hampton, Delaware State, South Carolina State, BCC, Prairie View, Langston University, Clark Atlanta, Virginia Union and Tuskegee are just a few schools that come off the top of my head and I didn’t attend none of the schools. Sure I know Grambling is an HBCU school but that WAS ONLY after learning that Eddie Robinson was a brilliant head coach at the football program and that many of his players, including former Grambling coach Doug Williams, made their way to the NFL.

There is more to being an independent than just being a standout program and I would have thought Mr. Davis would have wrote that in his piece. When I bring out the fact that there are some really big dogs out in the Division 1-AA independence field, which also goes with the type of financial support that these schools are getting. Grambling cannot think of matching the monetary ledgers that schools like Cal Poly or Eastern Washington get. They cannot honestly think that they will be able to get into the playoff picture by taking paychecks from schools like a Texas A&M or TCU, run through a fairly tough schedule and then try to win five games to a national title. This school cannot have those types of coffers considering that not to long ago it was almost shut down because of financial ineptitude by administrators.

IT’S A DREAM THAT SHOULD BE FLUSHED QUICKLY The bottom line to this whole debate is that while it may be nice for Grambling to think big, they are still a small pup when it comes to college football. Mr. Davis’ piece suggests that it may be nice to see Grambling take on teams like Notre Dame, Michigan State, etc. From this reader’s vantage point, the university needs to squash these plans with quickness. The board of regents needs to take this idea and file it somewhere so that it does not come back any time soon. The idea of playing schools like Notre Dame is fool’s talk because it makes no sense as a head coach to constantly be involved with at least two ass whoopings a season. That’s demoralizing to your team.

What should happen is that Spears, the board of regents, the president and athletic director need to go to the SWAC leadership and figure out what is the best solution for revenue hikes, continued fan support and also effectively put a winning product on the field. I’m a realist when it comes to ideas such as what Mr. Davis wrote in the Daily Ledger. If Grambling had the type of following at home, the type of financial backing like a Texas State or Georgia Southern, then I might entertain the idea of them going independent. However Mr. Davis and his piece are not the correct formula solution to that problem of little or no money. Without sounding like a broken record, this is the perfect reason why a black college football bowl game is needed but that story was already written in 2005.

All that anyone can ask is that before you jump on the Tigers’ bandwagon, do some serious research as to whether this team can handle the rigors of being an independent college. This decision is not just gong to affect football. It will definitely have an effect on the other sports programs and schedules. Being an independent means that you will have to take on some rigorous opponents. However let’s let things play out and let’s see if Mr. Davis’ article jars a few other folk out of their comas. Only time and a whole bunch of money can make this a done deal. If the deal falls through, it’s okay. But let us just see what happens in the next year or so. Maybe they will succeed. Maybe they won’t. Only time will tell in this instance.