Could Savannah State Athletics Move to a Non-HBCU Conference?

Robert Moore writes in the Savannah Tribune about possible destinations for the Division II-bound Savannah State University Tiger athletics program, which weeks after leaving Division I and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, seemed on a logical path of a feel-good reunion with the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

But Moore’s reporting suggests a few suitors for the Tigers, including predominantly white and inconceivably puzzling choices in the Gulf South and Peach Belt Conferences. From the Tribune:

Peach Belt commissioner David Brunk says that his conference will be down to 12 schools next year with the loss of Armstrong State. Brunk adds that the loss of ASU makes Savannah State very attractive to the PBC. “SSU is within our footprint. They will be a part of our discussions as well as a few NAIA schools, at our next meeting.” He adds that although no contact has been made, he looks forward to meeting with the SSU president and athletic director.

A public declaration to welcome Savannah State into the Peach Belt sounds a lot like the lukewarm welcome Savannah State President Cheryl Davenport Dozier gave for the Georgia Southern-Armstrong State consolidation: a wait-and-see for something that could lead to a greater good.

Except, much in the way that there will be no greater good from Georgia Southern operating down the street from Savannah State, there is no good for Savannah State to play in any other conference outside of the SIAC. Forget the obvious benefits like in-state rivalries with Fort Valley State and Albany State, the SIAC is a trendsetting athletic product which outpaces nearly all Division II and much of Division I in innovation, diversity, and marketing with small campuses and fan bases.

Among HBCU sports, the SIAC stands out for its female officiating crews and more

Despite the doomsday scenarios that say the bottom is falling out within athletic departments at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) is pursuing several groundbreaking initiatives and continuing to quietly earn a reputation as an innovative leader in digital and social media strategies and sponsorship development, as well as in diversity and inclusion initiatives.

What makes the Peach Belt or the Gulf Coast marketable to Tiger athletics? It can’t be a footprint with schools offering geographic proximity or appealing rivalries. It cannot be a push for diversity, since neither conference is regarded for creating opportunities for black coaches or athletic directors.

And it certainly can’t be for the money, because the SIAC and its member institutions lead the nation in football attendance and have struck impressive corporate partnership deals with Bevel and Nike, making it a profit bearing sports enterprise while the Peach Belt and the Gulf Coast have lost money in recent years.

So why is this a conversation for a school which could soon be facing major issues with enrollment, and already faces major issues with finance which spurred the move to Division II in the first place? If the reports are true, they hint at a frightening extension of the Georgia Southern consolidation continuing to push the SSU brand out of the city’s conscience, and out of HBCU autonomy altogether.

And if that happens, it will truly be game over for Savannah State.

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