Why is Winning Not Enough for FAMU?

Florida A&M University is developing a reputation for racking up wins, especially ones that could be classified as misleading or outright made up.

The latest is the title of the nation’s top public historically Black college or university as ranked by the U.S. News & World Report’s annual ‘Best Colleges Ranking.’ In its announcement, FAMU officials headline the accomplishment thusly:

It’s not until you get to the fourth paragraph of the story that you find out that FAMU is tied for first in the rankings with North Carolina A&T State University, the school which has held the top position for the past three years, and which namechecked FAMU in the second paragraph of its official announcement all while FAMU never mentioned North Carolina A&T in its messaging.

NCAT didn’t mislead readers with the headline, and seemingly, didn’t look to steal any thunder from its counterpart in Tallahassee. The work and its results spoke for itself.

It wouldn’t be so bad for Florida A&M if this was the first time the Rattlers got a little loose with accolades. But in December, FAMU proclaimed itself national HBCU football champions after posting an impressive 9-2 overall record with the best record in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Except the Rattlers were not the champs. They were an ineligible team with the misfortune of posting the best record with very little to show for it in the postseason. From HBCU Gameday:

The Rattlers, however, were not recognized as the MEAC as its champion despite having the best record in the conference. The program declared itself ineligible for postseason play this spring after it self-reported NCAA violations regarding the improper certification of athletes in previous years, which meant it cannot compete in the Celebration Bowl.

The MEAC allowed FAMU’s games to count on the standings, however, it declared North Carolina A&T and South Carolina State as co-MEAC Champions. FAMU defeated both schools, including a 31-28 overtime win over A&T, who will represent the conference in the Celebration Bowl for the fourth time in the five years of the game between the MEAC and SWAC’s best.

FAMU deserves a lot of credit for the gains they’ve made in recent years. They’ve bullied their way into gains with the state’s formula-based funding model. They’ve worked hard to make sure that enrollment shortfalls in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic were not as severe as originally expected, and the campus has become an invaluable resource for testing and community outreach during the pandemic response.

FAMU is winning in a lot of ways and the hard work is yielding results. And while it is generally accepted that FAMU culture is the kind where excellence and being number one is only as good as everyone hearing about it, that culture is being soured by the muddled ways in which the school is starting to promote its own achievements.

Florida A&M is critically important to the state of Florida, and an immeasurable spoke in what makes HBCU culture vibrant even in tumultuous times. With its programs, its huge alumni base, and the way it navigates the harsh politics of the American south, the HBCU community looks to FAMU as a model institution in virtually all facets of survival and impact.

Models typically don’t have to manufacture or aggrandize anything. The act of modeling is typically good enough for people to make a clear distinction of who’s bad and who wants to be.

So exactly what does FAMU want to be so bad that it is willing to make itself look bad in the process of getting to its goal?