Alcorn State wide receiver Marquis Warford (10) catches a pass while defended by Grambling State defensive back Montrel Meander (24) in the fourth quarter during the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship football game in Houston, Texas, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017. (Tim Warner/Houston Chronicle via AP)

One of the best high school quarterbacks in the nation – Bryce Young – recently switched his commitment from USC to Alabama. In the grand scheme of things it was a matter of the rich getting richer, but what if Young, an elite dual-threat quarterback recruit out of the Los Angeles area had dropped USC for Eric Dooley’s aerial attack at Prairie View A&M University?

Some eyebrows might have been raised and some may have shifted uncomfortably in their seats at the very idea of an elite African-American athlete choosing an HBCU over a Power 5 –Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 ot Southeastern Conference –school. That just doesn’t happen in today’s college athletics world.

But what if the SWAC and MEAC could all of a sudden attract the elite African-American football and basketball talent as the schools did prior to the mid-1960s when Nlack athletes had no place else to go?

“If you got the top guys each year to go HBCUs you would see the landscape change,” said Texas Southern University football coach Clarence McKinney.

The question is – is it realistic? The answer is resoundingly no. The Power 5 schools and their multi-million facilities and mega million-dollar TV deals have made it impossible for HBCUs to catch up.

It is, however, an interesting discussion that was sparked by the Atlantic’s Jemele Hill’s recent story titled, “It’s Time for Black Athletes to Leave White Colleges.” Her premise is that Black athletes bring far more to the predominantly white institutions than they usually get in return.

SWAC commissioner Dr. Charles McClelland would love to see the migration of Black athletes back to HBCUs but he knows the challenges that are nearly impossible to overcome.

“I think the reality of that is that with the money and the television exposure and all that goes into participating in a Power 5 with the national championship game and things of that nature, the reality of that happening is not that great,” McClelland said. 

McClelland does think HBCUs can compete with Power 5 schools for elite athletes on a more fundamental level in much the same way as those institutions win battles for elite African- American students every year.

“What HBCUs have to continue to do what we have done in the SWAC for the past 100 years which is to say, `We are going to love you, from an educational standpoint you are going to have small class sizes. We are going to treat you as one of us like family, we are not going to throw you away if you make a mistake,’” said McClelland, former athletic director at TSU and PVAMU. “We are going to be there for [them)] and we are going to continue to do the things that we’ve done for the past 100 years in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.”

HBCUs have always turned out professional athletes, just not at the same rate as the Power 5. In recent years we have seen players like South Carolina State’s Darius Leonard be drafted in the second round by the Indianapolis Colts in 2018 and this year the Texans drafted guard Tytus Howard in the first round out of Alabama State.

McKinney has a secret when it comes to recruiting elite athletes.

“We evaluate them early, start recruiting them and we recruit them until they tell us no,” he said. “We continue a relationship with a lot of those kids because you never know what’s going to happen in a year or two if they decide to go somewhere else.”

I've been with The Defender since August 2019. I'm a long-time sportswriter who has covered everything from college sports to the Texans and Rockets during my 16 years of living in the Houston market....