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New ESPN Partnerships May Give HBCU Football Its Overdue Shine

August 28 marked the kick-off to ESPN’s partnership with the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). Both conferences are comprised of coalitions of HBCUs. 

Two weeks ago, the ESPN crew headed to the Atlanta, Georgia, Center Parc Stadium for the North Carolina Central vs. Alcorn State game, with the latter declaring victory. According to ESPN, the SWAC and MEAC partnership will continue a long legacy of celebrating the rich history and tradition of HBCUs and their impact on college football. 

To date, ESPN has only televised two other matchups with two HBCUs: Grambling State vs. Southern in 2005 and Hampton vs. Florida A&M in 2008. The lack of HBCU coverage on the main stage has pushed Deion Sanders to callout the organization, demanding they “give us our shine.”

This is not, however, the first time HBCU football has aired on cable television. In the early 2000s, BET had its own series of matchups with Black College Football Saturdays. Former HBCU coverage on the network was a big hit as schools like Howard, North Carolina A&T, Hampton, Texas Southern, Alcorn State received prime time spotlight. For whatever reason, BET stopped airing HBCU games, and it became nearly impossible to get access to watch them.

For many, this new partnership is bittersweet. On one hand, fans wish the BET games could have gotten this type of coverage and funding. On the other hand, putting HBCU schools on ESPN legitimizes them in a way that BET couldn’t. While some may argue that this union could be seen as performative, it may also be a chance for HBCUs to take the reins from predominantly white institutions as the crowned jewel programs in the NCAA.

College athletes like Master P’s son, Hercy Miller, have already inked sponsorship deals in the millions since athletes can now monetize their likeness. This could be a great economic moment for HBCUs and their athletes across the scoreboard. Now, if only LeBron James Jr. would sign with an HBCU.

Head here for the full schedule of HBCU games airing on ESPN this season.  

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