Ever since PWIs were desegregated, HBCU athletics have had a very shaky road. Although PWIs being desegregated has helped us as a people, HBCU athletics has been left in the dust. HBCU football has been affected the most by this. The best athletes are at the top schools, which hurts Division 1 FCS, Division 2 and Division 3 programs who are trying to stay afloat in this competitive college football atmosphere. To help smaller programs, there’s a route that teams take that’s a little shaky but beneficial at the same time. That route is “Cash The Check” games.
Let’s break this down by targeting who this term applies to. The NCAA has three divisions but during Football season, it’s technically four. You have Division One FBS with teams like Ohio State and Alabama. Those teams go to bowl games and make the most money out of any college sport. On the other hand, you have Division One FCS; the teams that qualify for a postseason tournament. Your Ivy League schools and most powerhouse HBCUs fall under this category. Also, of course, there’s division two and three but they aren't really the main players in this situation.
FCS schools and Division One schools are really the main factors. When FBS schools either can't fill up their schedule, needs a close opponent, or just need an easy W in the win column; they call on FCS teams to fill that void. For FCS teams, when they need money or just exposure for their programs; they play FBS teams.
Most of the time, HBCUs, and PWIs that are FCS schools get PAID for games like this. Most FBS schools pay between $300k or even over $1 Million to FCS schools. But for HBCUs who are trying to keep up, there’s pros and cons this system.
Pro #1: HBCUs Get Paid
When Howard defeated UNLV on September 2nd, they were paid $600,000 to play the game despite the result. Hampton was paid $375,000 to play Ohio on the same day as well. Overall, HBCUs are paid well for these games. The average HBCU athletic budget for D1 programs is under $15 Million dollars per year according to the USA Today. And since it’s hard to make a consistent profit as an HBCU through athletics, the lump sum of money is basically a blessing to most schools. Since these games are played early in the season, teams won't have to worry about waiting for Conference and even playoff revenue. The cash obtained from one game can cover so many different costs for the athletic programs and even the schools.
Pro #2: HBCUs Gain Exposure
The MEAC and SWAC are the major football conferences that showcase HBCUs. They currently have a contract with ESPN U to show live games on National TV every week during the season. Besides that contract, it’s hard for HBCUs to get exposure during football season. “Cash The Check” games help schools gain exposure during the season. When signing the contracts for games, it’s usually a package deal for schools. Major D1 programs usually ask schools to bring their band to the game as well; spotlighting the athletic and fine arts programs within the same day. And since true fans know the difference between an HBCU bands and PWI bands, the entertainment value helps HBCUs gain exposure in the long run.
If an HBCU wins their game, the media exposure comes as well. Howard, Tennessee State and North Carolina A&T can attest to this. When Howard pulled an upset against UNLV this season, it was a media frenzy. Some of the top media outlets contacted Howard. And since Cam Newton’s little brother is the starting QB, the exposure was even brighter. NCAT defeated Kent State last season and Charlotte this season; proving their dominance in the process. Tennessee State defeated Charlotte this season as well.
But of course, this process isn't all that great. It has its cons as well.
Con #1: Games Are Embarrassments
August 31st: FAMU loses to Arkansas, 49-7
Sept 2nd: NCCU loses to Duke, 60-7
Sept 2nd: Jackson State loses to TCU, 63-0
Let’s be honest, these games are embarrassments. So embarrassing that most students automatically know that the game won't go well. Most of the time, it doesn't. Players are hurt and hurt them mentally. Most people argue that it’s not good for the programs to be embarrassed on the road just for a check. For some teams, it’s multiple games like this during the season. Which really brings up a very important question: Is the check worth the embarrassment?
Con #2: Not Everyone Understands The Process
Let’s be honest, the general college student won't fully understand this process. It’s a process that FBS schools use to fill their schedule and to also help smaller FCS programs. For the students in the stands or timelines, the responses are usually “my team sucks” or “they always lose”. That’s fine, but playing bigger schools has a bigger impact than just the game. But everyone won't know that. Due to this, when HBCUs do lose these types of games, not everyone reacts the same.
In my opinion, these games are risky but it’s needed. Due to this, I don't have any true problems with these types of games. It’s just apart of College Athletics, a business that stole the talent and exploited the innovations from HBCUs.
Lead Image Credit: NCCU Athletic Department