Deion Sanders’ appointment as the 21st head football coach at Jackson State University isn’t about publicity. Nor is it just about football.
It’s about opportunity.
Not for Sanders, the two-time Super Bowl champion and Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back—his illustrious playing career coupled with his personality and charisma have opened doors to plenty of those. “Prime Time” is a household name.
Rather, his appointment is an opportunity for the next generation. For student-athletes at Jackson State. For student-athletes across all historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
“We’re employed by Jackson State and the dream and goal is to build Jackson State, but the overall big picture of things is to build HBCUs in general,” Sanders told me. “If we get a five- or four-star kid in another HBCU, I think we won; not ‘we’ as in Jackson State but we won in general because now we’re leveling the playing field. It’s so vital that we shed light on things like why can’t these kids have a bowl game at the conclusion of the season? Why aren’t these kids being invited to the NFL Combine? Why aren’t these kids having the same opportunities other kids are having when you’ve had four Hall of Famers derive from Jackson State University?
“So that means giving it a level playing field—the same type of locker rooms, the same type of academic resources and software, the same type of tutoring, as well as stadiums and fields. Giving that same balance, I guarantee you, you will see tremendous upside coming from HBCUs. It’s very vital that we get that understanding out publicly.”
In August 2019, Ohio State University, the fifth-most valuable college football team according to Forbes, unveiled its newly renovated Woody Hayes Athletic Center. The $7.8 million upgrade to the east wing of the football team’s practice facility included a new kitchen and nutrition area, recovery and rehabilitation area equipped with a cryotherapy chamber and sensory deprivation tanks, a barbershop, full basketball court, golf simulator, and arcade games.
Clemson University, which clawed into the top 25 most valuable rankings in 2019, unveiled its $55 million Allen N. Reeves Football Complex in 2017, featuring a 23,000-square-foot weight room, state-of-the-art training room, lap pool, golf simulator, movie theater, two-lane bowling alley, and barbershop. The university’s Memorial Stadium is also poised for a $70 million makeover.
In 2017-18, Clemson brought in a school-record $40 million in athletic contributions with deputy athletic director Graham Neff telling Forbes: “There is a strong, strong correlation between football success and the contribution increase.”
While Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) powerhouses including Ohio State, Clemson, Alabama, Michigan and Texas continue college football’s never-ending facilities arms race fueled by eye-popping dollar amounts stemming from contributions, income from licensing and royalties, ticket sales, and gaudy TV broadcast deals doled out by their respective conferences, HBCUs aren’t afforded the same luxury of