Hardcore HBCU football fans know the stakes of tomorrow’s CIAA Northern Division matchup between Bowie State University and homecoming host Virginia State University. Both teams undefeated, both teams featuring conference player of the year candidates in VSU tailback Trent ‘Boom’ Cannon and BSU quarterback Amir Hall.
When Virginia State and Bowie State meet at Rogers Stadium just outside of Petersburg, VA on Saturday, a lot will be at stake. Both teams come into this pivotal Week Seven matchup undefeated, with Bowie coming in at 6-0 and Virginia State right behind it at 5-0.
It has the feel of a 1990’s BET ‘Game of the Week’ with Charlie Neal on the call and most HBCU football fans around the country, even Divison I MEAC and SWAC elitists, likely checking smartphones for updates tomorrow afternoon. And even though it won’t be televised on ESPN (which all of us should be boycotting for the next week or so), and won’t be the easiest boxscore to find on your phone (unless you follow @HBCUGAMEDAY on Twitter), it is the kind of game which comes along maybe once a year, and comes out of the blue.
The winner will all but control its own destiny in clearing a path to the CIAA football championship, potentially earning enough attention to draw a respectable seed in the Division II football championship playoffs. NFL scouts will likely be paying attention to this game, looking for diamonds in the rough and skill positions like corner, running back, wide receiver and interior line.
Fans will come from all parts of Maryland and Virginia to sell out the stadium, a rarity in black college football even for the most bitter of rivals. And local businesses in Petersburg will reap the benefits of a VSU homecoming with regional intrigue for sports and partying.
This is what black college football should be – regional rivalries with mass appeal across geography, commerce, and athletic bragging rights. This is what every Saturday feels like in the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12, but what we only get a taste of in HBCU culture. When we get these moments, it is something to treasure as fans and something to try and replicate as peer HBCU institutions.
Because if we can’t build up more of these moments across all four of our HBCU conferences, we run the risk of asking fans to support out of racial allegiance, without loyalty to a real college sports enterprise.
And as we’ve seen with HBCU attendance, racial allegiance only gets you but so far.
Between 1986 and 1993, total enrollment at historically black colleges and universities increased from 223,275 students to 282,856 – the largest seven-year stretch of enrollment increase for HBCUs as recorded by the National Center for Education Statistics.