Amidst interest from PWI sports programs, what will Coach Prime’s legacy hold for HBCUs in the future?

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Jackson State Head Coach Deion Sanders and Athletic Director Ashley Robinson celebrated the Tigers’ victory over Prairie View to clinch the 2021 SWAC championship. In Sanders’ first full season as head coach, the Tigers were 10-1 and undefeated in conference play.

The effect has been electrifying. The biggest homecoming crowd in Jackson State University history. Record attendance nearly every week. National coverage on network television. And at the center of it all is the true media star, Jackson State’s remarkable Head Football Coach Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders. 

Now comes the possible windstorm that might blow it all away.

It’s official. Colorado has asked the Jackson State coach to consider becoming its football coach next season. And he admitted that he has talked to them. But he’ll stay focused over the next two weeks on winning the SWAC championship and the Celebration Bowl without diverting his attention to the Colorado offer, he says.

“Yes, the report is true,” he says. “They’re not the only ones. I’m not going to sit here and tell all my business. But I would be a lie if I told you they didn’t. You know they did. I know they did, and everybody here knows they did. So, it is what it is. But that’s not my focus. Right now, my focus is to win.”

Colorado, it should be pointed out, has also approached several other coaches asking them for the same consideration. Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters is another one of Colorado’s top coaching prospects.

Carl Galmon, the Louisiana-based advocate and defender of Black college sports civil rights and equity for over 50 years, says the constant media and sports hype about the offers Sanders has been getting from Power 5 football programs like Auburn, Nebraska, and Colorado will affect the minds of young star recruits who might have wanted to come to an HBCU, star players like Travis Hunter who chose Jackson State under Sanders.

“By hearing and reading all these broadcasts that say all these colleges have made these offers to Coach Prime, the new ball players are going to say, ‘He’s not going to be there, so I’m not going to consider going to Jackson State,’” Galmon said.

 “Altogether, I have counted 10 offers that they claim they have made to Coach Prime. But he has not committed himself to any of the schools. So why would the sportscasters keep saying that he’s going to move to another college?”

Sanders has not committed himself to any college except JSU – so far – Galmon says. 

“One of the things I give him credit for is the push to get the HBCUs to improve their stadiums to make them more attractive to the athletes. That’s something that hurts Black schools. The stadium is not up to par. The athletic department itself is often woefully unprepared in case they get injured. 

“When Coach Prime talks about changing the quality of life for the athlete at an HBCU school, I think that’s something that should have been done a long time ago.”

LEGAL ACTION

Attorney Alvin Chambliss, the winning attorney in the Ayers vs. Fordice lawsuit that won equity and parity for the Historically Black Colleges and Universities of Mississippi, says the final terms of the lawsuit were never completely fulfilled, despite the compliant language of the state of Mississippi. Chambliss also represented Galmon and the Louisiana Chapter of SCLC in a number of legal actions, including lawsuits against the NCAA, ABC Sports, and a number of other broadcasters and organizations that barred Black colleges from their operations, including the Sugar Bowl. 

“I was the lead plaintiff and Alvin Chambliss represented us,” Galmon said. “It was in 1974. The Sugar Bowl had never had any Blacks to serve on the Mid-Winter Sports Association, the committee that sponsored the Sugar Bowl. Alvin Chambliss represented us there. SCLC got involved in this and they appointed six Blacks to the committee. 

“At the time, I was public relations director of SCLC. But by the time of the Super Bowl complaint, I was vice president of SCLC’s Louisiana’s state chapter. Alvin was our attorney and worked with us here in New Orleans. He also worked with the Southern Media Coalition to get Black newscasters and sports reporters on television. And he was involved with the EEOC complaint that won Black colleges the right to participate in NCAA post-season bowl games.” 

Chambliss says the struggle to gain equality and respect for Black institutions remains a major challenge.

“Deion Sanders, Coach Prime, cannot do this all by himself,” Chambliss said in a telephone interview Monday. “He has never talked to me about what he is trying to do but I’m really impressed with the good work that he has done.

“Deion Sanders said God sent him to Jackson State,” Chambliss said. “And I believe that. Sanders is not only pushing for a level playing field, but he’s trying to get people together and to get organized, but these people aren’t doing much of anything.”

The fight is not over yet, Chambliss says. 

“The Black colleges have not gained – they’ve gained in terms of football – but they have not gained in terms of student enrollment or state financial support,” he said. “They’ve lost instead. 

“It is past time for Black folk to march and say, enough is enough. You do that when the legislature starts, then you work it and work it. The JSU alumni and their support groups should call for the largest demonstration that’s ever been assembled for the opening day of the state legislature and make sure that everybody, Black folks included, gets the message and shows their support. 

“When we did the march in 1994, right after the Ayers’ decision, when they started talking about closing the Black schools, we had 40,000 people and we didn’t have a dime,” he said. “But we pulled it off.

“Black people have never had control of the Black agenda in the South,” Chambliss said. “You’ve got to force these so-called civil rights organizations to live up to their promise of fighting for people’s rights. I want to know where our civil rights organizations are in this effort.”

NEW JSU STADIUM

Since 2013, a new football stadium for Jackson State has been a promise – a dream, even – that has slowly receded into the background. Veterans Memorial Stadium, the current “Home of the JSU Tigers,” somehow got crossed off JSU’s wish list without a viable replacement. Talk of the new JSU stadium still comes up for discussion from time to time, but then just goes away again. 

“How in the world can you justify Jackson State not having a stadium?” Chambliss asks.

“And why are we talking about a stadium when Jackson State had a stadium, Veterans Memorial Stadium? Why should we move? But they want JSU to move so the white folk can build another medical building for the University Medical Center. They can build that somewhere else. Why is it that we always have to move?”

Chambliss remains pessimistic about the willingness of the state to live up to its commitments to its Black institutions. 

“You’ve got $50 million on the table that Ole Miss, MS State, and Southern MS promised. They’ve not done that. The R&D (Research and Development) Center was to be given to Jackson State. They haven’t done that. The e-Center was also supposed to go to Jackson State outright instead of being put on a 99-year lease. There’s a whole bunch of commitments they haven’t kept. How wonderful it would be for them to re-open the Ayers case, but they’re not going to re-open it.”

Former State Representative Kathy Sykes, the Special Projects Officer for Hinds County Supervisor District Two, says she also distrusts the state in its dealings with the major Black institutions.

“The Ayers agreement isn’t working out because the state has reneged on certain parts of the settlement,” she said.

She is in favor of JSU retaining ownership of Veterans Memorial Stadium with all the needed improvements and repairs completed as soon as possible, she said.

“I like the stadium where it is now,” she said. “I just don’t trust the state of Mississippi to follow through on their promises. I understand that they already have a location for the new JSU stadium. I’m not sure where, but JSU says they got the land already.

“I see no good reason why Jackson State should have to give up the stadium. They could very easily take the Farmer’s Market and turn that into a hospital complex. Use that money and build it. And there’s a lot of land behind UMMC and the Medical Mall, and they could just build around the stadium. They haven’t given us a good enough reason, except that they can.”

COLLEGE BUSINESS

Galmon says the current college sports scene is a major money-making operation and should be run like a business.

“There’s big money in sports gear,” Galmon says. “LSU sells 57 types of sports gear and they make big money off that. The money made off their sports gear can be used to improve facilities at these HBCUs, like showers and equipment inside the Athletic Dept.”

After they won the national championship in football in 2019, LSU earned $156 million from the sports gear, plus the money they received from the football games and the television revenue, Galmon said.

“That’s a lot of money,” he said. “Why can’t these Black schools go out and find one company and let them manufacture all their sports gear? Not only just football, but basketball, baseball, all of it, and they can sell it in the Student Union. That’s money, that’s economics.

“They’ll also need to get a business manager at HBCUs, not just a sports editor,” he said. “We need a business manager because sports today is a big business. I think Deion Sanders has brought a new twist to these schools as it relates to economics.”

Galmon said he hopes that Jackson State and the entire SWAC will be able to hold on to the phenomenon that is Deion Sanders and attract a new generation of Black athletes, coaches, and scholars that will rise to the top of their game in a world that welcomes them and that they will take the rest of the HBCUs with them. 

“We should be following the lead of Deion Sanders,” Galmon said. “It’s the dawn of a new day, and in college sports it’s a billion-dollar business. It’s time for the HBCUs to get their fair cut of that money.”

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Amidst interest from PWI sports programs, what will Coach Prime’s legacy hold for HBCUs in the future?

By Earnest McBride
December 5, 2022