LAWRENCE — Every Selection Sunday, basketball teams and fans around the country wait nervously, watching their TV screens to see if their name will be called. For those schools who make the NCAA tournament it can mean a shot at a championship, extending the careers of star players and a feel-good story for a school. But for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, it can mean much more.
Small schools, commonly known as “mid-majors” in the college basketball world, are most often the teams waiting on edge to see if their school has earned a bid to the tournament. When their name is called television coverage, reliably shows the team jumping up and down, hugging fans and generally being ecstatic. Jerry Crawford II, associate professor of journalism at the University of Kansas, has a unique insight into what making the tournament means for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
This year, Texas Southern of the Southwest Athletic Conference and North Carolina Central of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference will be playing in the tournament as champions of their respective conferences.
Crawford researches the unique challenges HBCUs face. The schools, founded throughout the American South in the wake of the Civil War, were established as institutions to provide an education for African-Americans who were not allowed to attend other schools. While educational segregation is no longer official policy, Crawford says HBCUs still offer an opportunity to a diverse set of people, many of whom are first-generation college students and don’t have the same educational access as others. They face many challenges, including declining enrollment, financial pressures and accreditation difficulty.
Playing in the tournament can be a chance to get their name in front of a national audience, showcase their athletic programs and earn a financial boost.
“The NCAA tournament is possibly the first time these teams will play a Power 5 conference school on a neutral floor,” Crawford said. “Normally, HBCUs have to play these schools as what is considered a ‘pay for play’ game, at the larger school’s facility. So, from my experience, HBCU teams are happy for the opportunity to compete at the highest level.”
While smaller schools and HBCUs may not make the Final Four, just playing on a national stage — and possibly upsetting a favored team — can be a big boon for the schools.
“No matter their win-loss record, no matter if they win their conference regular season and the conference tournament title, the best they can hope for is a number 15 seed,” Crawford said. “However, the exposure in the ‘Big Dance’ does allow for great recruiting opportunities, and who knows, this year’s MEAC champion, possibly playing number 1 Kansas, would provide a match-up with legendary KU alum and Hall of Famer John McLendon’s NCCU Eagles Friday night. The SWAC champion, Texas Southern, earned a 16 seed and will play UNC.”
To schedule an interview with Crawford, contact Mike Krings at 785-864-8860 or firstname.lastname@example.org.