The United States soccer team was eliminated from the World Cup and that story was dwarfed by a football coach leaving a southern school to take a job out west. That coach was Deion Sanders, the school from which he departed was Jackson State and his new school is the University of Colorado.
Coach Prime’s decision to become the Buffs’ coach was met with dismay, confusion, disappointment and outright indignation from those within and outside of the Jackson State fan base.
As coaches leave programs routinely, why did this seem to strike such a chord?
When Coach Sanders first arrived at Jackson State it was to much fanfare. Amongst the things he said that he was here to level the playing field , he was called by God and that he was there to provoke change. He also indicated that he wanted HBCUs, not just Jackson State, to be able to land blue chip talent that normally goes to Power 5 schools and HWCs in general.
Coach Prime was able to use his resources, talents and connections to get some things done, not only for Jackson State, but the Southwestern Athletic Conference benefitted from his efforts and his presence.
Deion Sanders has always possesed a bombastic, magnetic charisma that draws people in and this was certainly the case with the Jackson State faithful who embraced their new coach as one of their own. They believed his words and fully bought in to his message of change. It was always believed that Coach Prime would move on at some point, but the departure seemed abrupt, as it he had not yet completed the objectives he laid out when Sanders took the job. This created the perception was that a bill of goods had been sold and people felt their hopes had been played upon for the enrichment of another, and when people feel like they were taken for a ride, they get angry. This is one of the factors that elicited such a visceral response.
Coach Sanders will not be headed to Boulder alone, as several of Jackson State’s top players will join him at Colorado.Th Jackson-to-Boulder talent siphoning is not just limited to current JSU players bu likely also to players who had already committed to Jackson State, with several decommiting from the HBCU. Poaching higher end talent from an HBCU to an HWC would appeart be the antithesis of one of the core tenets of Sanders coming to Jackson State, which was to make JSU, and HBCUs in general, viable first landing points for top shelf athletic talent. The timing of this coaching change /vacancy has put Jackson State behind the eight ball in terms of recruiting. The Tigers are hemorrhaging commitments in lieu of Coach Prime’s departure and the early signing period will, in all likelihood, net them nothing, with same potentially being true of the transfer portal. Largely bereft of much of their high-end talent, ironically because of their former head coach, the 60,000 at the Vet will have a lot less to cheer about next season.
As can be seen, Coach Sanders’ decision to take the position at Colorado evoked a lot of emotion, some of it justified and some rooted in unreasonable emotionalism, I will also submit that some of that indignation that was referenced earlier could be born out of a degree of or trepidation. For the past 3 seasons and two years, Jackson State has been the belle of the HBCU ball, garnering the school a steady stream of unprecedented national attention. Over the past three seasons, Jackson State has enjoyed a dominant run of 27-5; the Tigers only had 30 wins over the previous I seasons, combined. There is the angst that sans their former effervescent head coach Jackson State football will experience a precipitous tumble down the Southwestern Athletic Conference mountain accompanied by a loss in prominence, as well as the ability to entice highly-talented athletes to Jackson.
It would be disingenuous to portray a narrative that Deion Sanders did not have a positive impact on Jackson State, the Southwestern Athletic Conference, and HBCUs as a whole. However, that era has drawn to a close and the charge to improve and elevate the conditions of our beloved institutions does not end just because Coach prime is no longer amongst our ranks.
The standard pitched ideas to address the shortfall of monetary support, attending games other than homecomings and Classics are actions that should be undertaken, but this alone cannot make up the fiscal deficit under which most HBCUs` operate. It is paramount that the administration at a school and a conference level be held accountable. For too long ineptitude and apathy at these levels have been permitted to fester and run rampant and the school, and most specifically the students are the most adversely affected. If the conference is engaging in bad business deals, those responsible for entangling the conference, and likely its member institutions in said arrangements should face repercussions. Non-athletic departments are not exempt from the hammer of accountability swinging down upon them. If financial aid or housing is not up to their charge task and doing students a disservice, heads need to roll.
It is a fair assumption that there will be a scaling back of the national coverage that Jackson State and other HBCUs received. This makes supporting the rising HBCU media paramount. We cannot wait or hope that College Gameday comes to one of our campuses or be the topic of discussion on one of the shows on BSPN or FS1. Our outlets can and will provide that coverage, but they will need our support to continue and elevate the high-level and extensive news they provide. As much good as Coach Prime did during his stint in the realm of HBCUs, the SWAC, MEAC, SIAC, and CIAA were here before him and with a collective effort, students, alumni, and rightly focused administrators, these conferences and their member institutions can reach unprecedented heights.