AUBURN – As late as 2008, Grambling’s football team was named the national champion among Historically Black Colleges. However, the school has continued to struggle like other HBC schools who now have to compete with once-segregated state schools in the south that aggressively recruit the top black athletes and students with superior facilities. Leaders in Tuskegee near Auburn have seen the struggle play out.
In an attempt to avert Grambling’s forfeit Saturday, the school has agreed to an immediate $32,000 improvement to the weight room, one of the complaints along with long bus rides and other poor facilities. Sports Illustrated described the weight room:
Covering the concrete floor are large interlocking rubber tiles. They are light gray now but were almost certainly a different shade when they were installed years ago. Many of them curl at the edges or have corners missing, hazards that can cause an unsuspecting player to trip. In some areas, entire tiles are gone. Imagine hoisting 300 pounds while having to watch your step. In a sport where injuries are common, the last thing players need are physical hazards in their own weight room. That is how the Tigers’ football players train.
The same dynamic occurs here where Auburn is one of many universities under pressure to recruit black students, including the children of proud alums of the Historically Black College Tuskegee University in the town where the Red Tails fighter pilots once trained for World War II.
During many a trip to Tuskegee prominent people have told me of the choice children of alumni children face in choosing between their lifelong assumption they would attend Tuskegee and the much better facilities at other universities. Like their predominantly white counterparts, Grambling, Tuskegee and other schools do have white students, with many flocking to a well-regarded veterinarian school among others.
I was confused at fundraiser for a Catholic school in Tuskegee a few years ago when one of my door prizes was a shirt (pictured above and below) that proclaimed Tuskegee champions of the SWAC – the conference that includes Grambling. Having covered some SWAC basketball I knew Tuskegee did not have a D1 basketball team, and I tried to figure out if they were the only school in the country with a Division 1 football team but NOT a Division 1 basketball team.
I learned that Tuskegee was Division 2, but had beaten two Division I (FBS) SWAC schools and were claiming the SWAC title like Appalachia State might do if they beat Michigan and Minnesota once season to declare, “App State – Big Ten Champs!” In fact, the lack of facilities for even the D1 Historically Black Colleges has left the gap between Division 1 and 2 schools even closer. The year before Grambling was last named national HBC champion, Tuskegee was voted the top HBC school in the country (in 2007) despite being Division 2.
While Grambling alumni will certainly rally to prevent Grambling from collapse on the field or in the classroom, the challenges they face are not unique and could provide insights to challenges facing most Historically Black Colleges.