Over the last two years, the SWAC has slowly gained more popularity throughout college athletics. So much so that the SWAC could become the juggernaut conference like the SEC but for the FCS.
The SEC is truly dominant in football. Its geographic location and commitment to football is what makes it so dominant.
Positioned in some of the most talented rich football recruiting hotbeds in the country, the SEC has dominated the FBS level, winning the national championship 12 out of the last 16 years. When you look at the 4 years the SEC came up short, 3 of those 4 years were won by southern teams. Ohio State being the outlier, that program has recruited the south as well if not better than 99% of college football.
Like the SEC, the SWAC sits in the hotbed of college football recruiting. With programs in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas the SWAC has an opportunity.
Programs like Jackson State, FAMU, Grambling State, Southern, Alcorn State, Alabama A&M, and Alabama State have made strides in various areas to attract the talent needed to force changes. As we know and can admit, more will be needed in order for this to happen.
What separates the SEC from all other conferences is their collective commitment to funding their football programs in all areas. Recruiting is one thing but building the facilities and hiring the right coaches to develop that talent is another.
Jackson State coach Deion Sanders, one of the greatest players to ever put on a helmet, became the voice for the SWAC and HBCUs as a whole. Sanders came into the SWAC with zero college coaching experience, but the notoriety to spark the question ” Why not HBCUs?”
Sanders immediately went after Power 5 transfer athletes and star high school football recruits. Sanders has demonstrated in his short time at Jackson State is that recruits are interested in HBCUs, they just want to know they will get the exposure needed to go to the NFL.
As we enter a new era in college athletics, the SWAC has a great opportunity to answer questions about exposure, funding, development and the possibility of making it to the NFL.
In the 2022 NFL Draft, four players from the HBCUs were drafted into the NFL, with a lot more being signed as undrafted free agents less-than 24 hours later. The 2 of the 4 players that were drafted were from the SWAC, but also overall four more HBCU player drafted than what happen in 2021.
What has brought the SEC so much continued success is their unwavering commitment to recruiting the best players. since 2018, the SEC has averaged about 9.6 teams in the top 25 of the 247 recruiting rankings. No other conference come even close to that many teams, with the Big 10 averaging just a little under 5 teams and the ACC about 4 teams.
The SWAC is positioned better than any other FCS conference to do the same. With the Transfer Portal becoming a huge recruiting tool for the programs in the SWAC, the roster transformation should be quicker than previous years. Many players from the Power 5 level have transferred to the SWAC programs for one reason or another. The added boost in talent can only mean iron sharpening iron.
Just recently, Alabama State got a huge commitment from Auburn 4-star transfer quarterback Demetrius Davis. Davis was a Texas phenom in high school. leading his school to two state championships.
Davis is just one of the more recent influx of power 5 talent that has found new homes in the SWAC conference. SWAC commissioner, Charles McClelland, has done a great job of supporting his programs and directing the conference into a promising future.
Outside of the transfer portal, various programs with in the SWAC have recruited high school recruits just as well. Jackson State signed the highest rated recruit in HBCU history with #1 overall player in the country Travis Hunter. An elite cornerback prospect that put on a show at the Jackson State spring game.
The bottom line for any college football program is to develop the talent. The SEC has done this better than any other conference. This is why recruits are drawn to the SEC over any other reason. If you have a track record of putting players into the NFL, the recruits will show up.
The best way to develop the players is by having the best coaches to do so. When Nick Saban took over Alabama in 2007, he brought in a level of professionalism and accountability to the program and the conference. His style of coaching was key to developing the talent on the field and the coaches around him. This is also why many of his players are drafted high into the NFL and his assistant coaches are hired as head coaches.
Overall, his impact raised the level of play in the SEC to new heights. Creating the narrative that players are bigger, faster, stronger in the SEC than any other conference.
The SWAC are on the way to doing just the same. Although, the SWAC doesn’t have the facilities like the SEC, the programs in the conference have raised their level of play. The SWAC has arguably the best group of FCS coaches in one conference.
The SWAC recently locked in a media rights deal with Allen Media Group (AMG). AMG has been granted rights to HBCU GO cable, linear, streaming, broadcast, VOD, and pay-per-view rights to the conference sporting events starting the 2022-2023 season.
AMG isn’t the only media company looking to stream HBCU content. HBCU League Pass+, owned by Urban Edge Network , has secured some media streaming opportunities for a few SWAC programs. Grambling State might be the biggest name of the group.
While both deals conflict with each other, the great part is that the SWAC conference is getting opportunities that no other FCS conference has been able to lock in. Both companies are black owned and are pushing to give HBCUs a platform to be seen.
Many of the Power 5 conferences are locking in $200+ million dollar media rights deals. The SEC and Big 10 deals are expected to exceed $1 billion. If the SWAC was able to lock in just 25% of that kind of deal, the conference would completely change.
The AMG deal is the first step into boosting the SWAC visibility on a national level. With the news of another program potentially leaving the MEAC, the SWAC could become the lone D1 HBCU conference.
One of the key factors in building the brand of any program is having your apparel seen everywhere possible. In a recent Twitter Spaces conversation, the topic of apparel distribution and how hard it is to get the gear of their favorite HBCU athletics program.
Outside of the immediate area of the school, it can be very difficult to find the jersey of FAMU or even Grambling State. Although, most of these programs are sponsored by Nike, Under Armour, and Adidas it is rare to find a HBCU jersey in a sports clothing store.
In order for the footprint of the SWAC to become more prevalent, the conference must make it apart of their mission to get the distribution of their programs apparel out into stores across the country.
Attendance & Atmosphere
Although most SEC stadiums host well above 40,000 fans, only 1 school in the FCS was able to average that level of attendance. Jackson State led the way with an average crowd just over 42,000 fans.
Two other SWAC programs (FAMU and Southern) ranked just inside the top-6 in average attendance as well.
Most would agree that the HBCU game day experience is second to none. The SWAC has most of the iconic HBCU programs. The expectation over the next few years is to raise the average game attendance for the entire conference.
Deion Sanders has shown he is willing to help other programs inside the SWAC improve in anyway possible.
Marquee Non-Conference FCS Opponents
The beauty of the SEC is the way they have played against non-conference opponents. The SWAC must do the same. The perception of the SWAC won’t improve until they win most of those games.
Match ups we would like to see:
- Jackson State vs North Dakota State
- FAMU vs Montana State
- Sam Houston State vs Southern
- Jackson State vs NC A&T
- Grambling State vs East Tennessee State