SWAC results mediocre, but bowl payout eases the pain
If you can't beat 'em, don't join 'em.
That's essentially the message the SWAC and MEAC have sent to the rest of the college football world for choosing the cash-grab of the Celebration Bowl rather than competing with the nation's best in the FCS playoffs.
And it's the right decision.
Anyone with any remote knowledge of the FCS is largely aware that figuring out whether North Dakota State will win the championship is like wondering whether Serena Williams will win a tennis match. Sure, it may not happen – but you wouldn't bet on it.
As it struggles to be competitive at college football's second tier, the SWAC has decided not to be a part of it in the postseason, and rightfully so.
It's well documented that the FCS playoff games open to small crowds over Thanksgiving weekend and starts from behind attendance-wise, and the SWAC champion would be playing in that first round almost annually.
Even worse is the fact SWAC schools are armed with Division I football's worst budgets, which decreases their chances to defeat top FCS opponents and keep advancing in the playoffs, when crowds tend to grow.
When a flagship program like Jackson State is 0-12 all-time in the playoffs, there really is no reason to take part. The Tigers were the last SWAC team to participate in the playoffs in 1997.
So credit to the cash-strapped SWAC for choosing the million-dollar payout of the Celebration Bowl. In fact, the SWAC now has three national-TV paydays to end the season with the Bayou Classic, SWAC Championship and the inaugural Celebration Bowl, which SWAC champion Alcorn State lost 41-34 to North Carolina A&T of the MEAC on Dec. 19.
There's great history to the SWAC, but it's obviously had difficulty finding footing in a saturated college football landscape dominated by money. To put the situation in perspective, the conference's 10 teams totaled five victories in 21 games outside SWAC play, and many of the losses were blowouts.
With isolated campuses, low scholarships and the aforementioned worst budgets in the FCS, what the SWAC still has going for it is the name brand the conference has built up from an illustrious past which produced Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, Doug Williams, Michael Strahan and countless other NFL greats.
The pageantry at games is a big part of SWAC football, so the big crowds that its schools bring to its “classic” games at neutral fields underscore how the SWAC commands the spotlight in a different way than the likes of North Dakota State, national runner-up Jacksonville State and other schools.
Skipping the FCS playoffs for the Celebration Bowl is a win-win for the SWAC.
Other storylines from 2015:
GALES RECOVERING: The biggest story in the 2015 SWAC season was how Southern receiver Devon Gales was paralyzed on a kickoff return with a major spinal injury on Sept. 26 at Georgia. It was a welcome sign recently that Gales finally had feeling in his knee and bottom of the feet.
THE INTERVIEW: Grambling coach Broderick Fobbs' emotional, spiritual and flat-out crazy interview after a 35-34 thriller over Alcorn State on Oct. 17 is a hit on YouTube and gets better with each viewing.
COTTON CLASSIC: Grambling's 70-54 win over Prairie View A&M on Sept. 26 was witnessed by 51,328 fans at the Cotton Bowl and featured quarterback Johnathan Williams' seven total touchdowns as well as two kickoff returns for TDs by the Tigers' Martez Carter. The teams combined for 1,136 yards of total offense and, yes, any 11 plucked from the stands could have provided better defense!
BERRY PICKING: Alabama State linebacker Kourtney Berry lived up to the hype with a SWAC-leading 11.8 total tackles per game for a Hornets team that now has six straight winning seasons.
MIGHTY QUINN: Southern's Willie Quinn ran back three kickoffs for touchdowns to give him six in his career and tie the FCS record by Hampton's Jerome Mathis.
HOPSON WATCH: The rumor mill swirled once again around Alcorn State coach Jay Hopson, though it appears the cancer survivor will be back for a fifth season in Lorman, Mississippi – good news for the Braves' faithful.
TAKING OVER: Two straight losing seasons were enough for Jackson State, which hired former Mississippi State assistant Tony Hughes to try and return the program to its glory days.
SAD NEWS: Former Texas Southern quarterback Jamal Small was tragically killed in his hometown of Asbury Park, New Jersey, on Dec. 20. Small guided the Tigers to a 4-0 start in 2014.