Deion Sanders (298638)
Credit: Photo courtesy of Michael J. Cargill via Flickr

The pomp and circumstance surrounding Deion Sanders’ introduction as Jackson State’s new head football coach last month was as celebratory as the annual homecoming weekend at the HBCU. The Pro Football Hall of Famer, who’s widely known by the moniker “Prime Time,” entered the gathering held at the Mississippi campus’s basketball arena, in an SUV that was part of a small motorcade, serenaded by the rhythmic vibrations of bass drums and ear piercing horns played by members of the Sonic Boom of the South, JSU’s marching band.

If Sanders can translate his immense aura, legendary playing career and success as a popular media personality to his fledgling turn as a college coach, the Jackson State program will become a force on the historically Black colleges and universities landscape. Nevertheless, his highly anticipated debut will have to wait until February when the Southwestern Athletic Conference, in which Jackson State is one of 10 schools, begins its schedule. They will open up February 27 hosting Mississippi Valley State, seeking their first SWAC Eastern Division championship since 2013.

The traditional Labor Day weekend kickoff of the historically Black colleges and universities football season was postponed due the COVID-19 pandemic. The SWAC, MEAC and other HBCU conferences will now hold a spring season with games beginning over a month after the conclusion of the aptly named major college season. One of the conferences categorized as a major, the Big Ten, which is also a member of the Power Five conferences, kicked off their schedule October 24 after announcing August 11 it was delaying its September launch to an undetermined date.

Despite President Donald Trump’s false claims at the first presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio that “I brought back Big Ten football,” the fact of the matter is the initial drivers of change were players and their parents, who carried out among other proactive measures a protest outside of the conference’s headquarters in Rosemont, Illinois on August 21, organized by Randy Wade, the father of Ohio State defensive back Shaun Wade, who is projected to be a top 15 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Ultimately, economics was the elemental determinant. Big Ten football is an enormous economic engine for the respective member schools, as well as the cities and states in which they are located. In 2018, the Ohio State Buckeyes football program accounted for over $110 million in revenue for the university.

According to its athletic department, Wisconsin Badgers football produces nearly $115 million for the state coveted by both Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden for its 10 electoral votes. Penn State University generates a comparable amount for the key swing state of Pennsylvania. It is why Trump, in his habitual self-serving methodology, implored the Big Ten to reverse course on postponing its season as he viewed the negative economic impact as detrimental to his reelection prospects.

Conversely, almost all HBCU institutions are cashed strapped and as a result so are its football programs. Because of a delay in their scheduling, many HBCUs will lose a significant revenue source in so-called money games. Last year, Deion Sanders’ alma mater, Florida State, of the powerhouse ACC, guaranteed the SWAC’s Alabama State a $400,000 payday to play against them November 16. As expected, FSU easily won by 49-12.

Decidedly, major college football and HBCU’s are worlds apart, the distinct disparity being hundreds of millions of dollars.