HBCU Football Restarts Amidst The COVID-19 Pandemic

Months ago, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference made headlines when they decided not delay their football seasons until the spring. The decision of these two historically Black athletic conferences was largely driven by the pandemic. Months later, the COVID-19 pandemic is still here and growing worse each day. In spite of the pandemic, both conferences are opting to move forward with their football seasons as scheduled. Practices are set to begin this month and games will kick off in late February. Officials from both conferences assure students, alumni, families and staff that the health and safety of those involved are their top priority.

“COVID-19 is going to dictate what we do,” SWAC Commissioner Charles McClelland said.

“At any point we feel that it’s not [safe], we will shut it down," MEAC Commissioner Dennis Thomas added.

All historically Black athletic conferences will not be returning to the football field this year. The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference have both canceled their football seasons due to the alarming number of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths. Making matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Black communities as hard, if not harder, than any other community. In comparison to white Americans, Black Americans are 3.7 more likely to be hospitalized by the coronavirus and Black Americans 2.8 times more likely to killed by COVID-19. Still, the MEAC and SWAC say they are “cautiously optimistic" about the upcoming season.

There is precedent for holding a college football season during the COVID-19 pandemic. The SEC, ACC, AAC, Big 12, Big Ten, PAC 12 and several other conferences were able to push forth and crown champions. Needless to say, there were roadblocks along the way. Most notably, the Ohio State University played in the College Football Playoff Championship without 13 key players due to COVID-19. Given additional time to prepare and the opportunity to watch other conferences beforehand, the MEAC and SWAC believe they are as well prepared as they can possibly be to handle the pandemic safely.

“We have learned from our prior experience,” Thomas explained.

"The nation has learned more from this pandemic, even about testing. You have a vaccine now. All these things have come online that will make the spike more manageable.”

The MEAC will kick off its season with three games on February 20 featuring North Carolina Central, Howard, South Carolina State, Morgan State, Norfolk State and Delaware State. Meanwhile, the SWAC will kick off with Deion Sanders making his coaching debut with Jackson State against Edward Waters.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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