By Rosetta Miller-Perry

HBCU football was once the glamour sport in Black communities. especially in the South. For decades many of this nation’s finest football players were headlining at Grambling State, Florida A&M and Tennessee State. The lily-white schools in the SEC, SWC and ACC ignored them, but the NFL didn’t, and many of these players would go on to be pro football stars. But then the era of integration saw these predominantly white institutions now welcoming Black stars into their ranks, something that decimated the ranks of HBCUs.,

However over the past two seasons, there’s been a new development that’s helping to bring renewed attention and exposure to HBCU institutions. The presence of former NFL stars Deion Sanders at Jackson State and Eddie George at Tennessee State has provided a jump start to both those programs. They’re now getting more coverage in mainstream publications, and also stirring interest among top high school athletes in possibly attending HBCUs rather than going to big predominantly white schools.

There’s been an immediate improvement locally in Tennessee State’s program. The Tigers have won three games in a row, have a winning record at 4-3 and are having a much better season than Vanderbilt or Middle Tennessee State University. But there’s one problem that George’s presence hasn’t been able to solve, and that’s bringing back fans to TSU games. George has publicly voiced his disappointment as the meager attendance for TSU home games at Nissan Stadium.

Now it’s understandable that being in the OVC for some fans isn’t like the glory days when TSU’s schedule was populated solely by other HBCU teams. TSU playing Austin Peay or Southeast Missouri State doesn’t resemble the era when Big John Merritt roamed the sidelines at Tiger games, and would oppose fellow coaching legends like Jake Gaither at FAMU and Eddie Robinson at Grambling. But this is a different time and a new era.

The biggest thing for HBCUs today is getting recognition and coverage in a time where there’s a zillion things to watch, all kinds of sports channels available and an audience that’s not exactly steeped in history. The presence of George and Sanders on HBCU campuses can help attract young Black athletes who grew up watching them star  in the NFL. However they also want to play in front of crowds, and feel that their efforts are being supported.

This weekend the Tigers have their Homecoming game against Murray State. Let’s get a big crowd into Nissan Stadium as the Tigers go for a fourth win in a row and continue their bid for an OVC title and a berth in the FCS playoffs.