Thrash-for-cash not such a bad thing for a financially strapped Savannah State

Eric Adelson
Yahoo Sports

View photo

.

Oklahoma State easily covered the 67 ½-point spread against Savannah State. (US Presswire)

It's going to be ugly on Saturday in Tallahassee, Fla.

Savannah State, coming off a 1-10 season in the tiny MEAC conference, is a 70 ½-point underdog to vaunted Florida State, ranked sixth in the country. The Tigers will put four freshman offensive linemen up against one of the best pass rushes in the nation. This, just seven days after Savannah State was obliterated in Stillwater, Okla., 84-0 at the hands of the 18th-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys.

Already this week a school that many didn't even know existed is now getting slammed by college football pundits nationwide. One expert even wrote that athletic director Sterling Steward, Jr., "ought to be ashamed of himself," scolding the AD for not holding out for more than the nearly $1 million the school received for essentially serving as a battering ram for both OSU and FSU. It's easy to call this game an outright shame, a travesty, and borderline dangerous considering one of the Tigers defenders got a concussion last week in the course of trying to slow down Mike Gundy's freight train of an offense.

But to rip this game is to fail to understand why playing it is so crucial to the school's survival.

Savannah State is an HBCU, or a historically black college or university, and in the blunt words of The Network Journal for black professionals, HBCUs are "endangered."

[Video: Notre Dame among college football teams on Week 2 upset watch]

"Most are struggling financially and are having trouble luring potential students," the publication reads. "The financial difficulties affect the schools' ability to recruit and retain students – as well as stay competitive. And statistically, HBCUs are graduating students at lower four-year rates than regular, public-institutions."

Football can help. It might even be the only thing that can help, as the financial troubles are far more overwhelming than a 'Noles defensive line. Just last week, Morris Brown College in nearby Atlanta announced it was facing foreclosure. It's a difficult time for all colleges, but especially HBCUs. How difficult? The endowment for the top 10 historically white colleges is $141.1 billion, according to the National Association of College & University Business Officers. The endowment for the top 10 HBCUs is $1.5 billion. That's not an average; that's the combined endowment. And as you can guess, Savannah State is not in the top 10.

"For being a small school, we have to develop a plan to sustain our athletic program as a whole," Steward said by phone Thursday. "If the opportunity presented itself, we had to take that opportunity.”

Savannah State's total endowment is $4.2 million. That's it. So a $1 million payday (actually $860,000) for two games amounts to a quarter of the university's total endowment and nearly half of the annual football budget. "I have friends at the bigger schools," Steward says. "It's unfathomable what their budgets are compared to mine."

In that context, what the Tigers players are doing this month is incredible. If a group of several dozen students at any major school raised a quarter of their school's endowment in the span of eight days, they'd be feted by President Obama at the Lincoln Center (or at least by Anderson Cooper on CNN Heroes). "The Savannah States of the world taking big payouts in overmatched games are obviously not new, and aren't specific to black colleges," says Lawrence Ross, author of The Divine Nine, a study of African-American fraternities and sororities. "But with HBCUs facing increasing threats to their funding, one million dollars is not something to sneeze at when looking to fund an athletic department.”

It was Steward who reached out to Florida State when West Virginia dropped off the Seminoles' schedule because of a move to the Big 12. Steward told Yahoo! Sports he took these games because both Oklahoma State and FSU have wide-open offenses instead of the more physical "ground-and-pound" attacks preferred by schools like Alabama.

[Exclusive: Ex-LSU safety Chad Jones discusses his long road back to football]

He asked more than a dozen players if they wanted to play the games. They all said yes. The largest portion of the money from these dates, he says, will go right back into the football program. Considering the school is still paying for a renovation for a stadium that was nothing short of decrepit up until last year, there was a huge incentive to jump at the back-to-back paydays. With the right financial savvy, Steward can make the school a better place for all students – athletes and non-athletes alike. Don't underestimate the power of a winning football program in boosting the overall health of a school. Putting this money to work is Steward's opportunity and his job. We'll see if he does it.

Regardless of the final score Saturday, the players will have done their job – even if they aren't paid a dime. They will have helped make their campus better. That won't happen with a win on Saturday, but it will happen with money.

Yes, many small schools benefit from the payout that goes with September slaughters. Savannah State is not the first nor will it be the last to go through a thrash-for-cash. But because of its financial situation, and because of the special place HBCUs deserve in our nation's educational system, the Tigers' trials belong in a separate category. Because of what they are doing on these two Saturdays, students that come after them will have a better chance at a better college experience. And since a lot of those students can't afford expensive colleges and might not otherwise get a degree, that's a big deal. So no matter what the score ends up being on Saturday, don't ever say the 'Noles made the Tigers look bad. It's simply not true.

Yes, it's unlikely Savannah State will ever be a stalwart football program – especially in a world where the system favors a handful of superpowers and dozens of also-rans – but you never know what these Tigers' legacy will be.

After all, there was a college not too far from Savannah that was all-female until 1947, when it started a football program. In 1976, a new coach came in and took his team on the road to play powerhouses in Oklahoma (the Sooners) and Florida (the Miami Hurricanes). The final combined score in those two losses was 71-9.

The head coach was Bobby Bowden. The school was Florida State.

Other popular content on the Yahoo! network:
Cowboys display rare toughness in victory over Giants
Fantasy Football video: Which WR deserves a start in your Week 1 lineup?
Rangers rookie Jurickson Profar is baseball's latest teen sensation
Y! Music: Highlights and lowlights from the MTV Video Music Awards

  • Teague, Korver lead Hawks past Pacers 98-85

    Teague, Korver lead Hawks past Pacers 98-85

    Jeff Teague flung in a wild 3-pointer after the officials appeared to miss him stepping out of bounds, and Kyle Korver finished off Indiana from beyond the arc to lead the Atlanta Hawks to a 98-85 victory Thursday night and another lead in the … More »

    AP - Sports - 18 minutes ago
  • Davis has 3 RBIs, Orioles beat Blue Jays 11-4

    Davis has 3 RBIs, Orioles beat Blue Jays 11-4

    TORONTO (AP) -- Chris Davis had two hits and three RBIs, Jonathan Schoop homered and the Baltimore Orioles beat the Toronto Blue Jays 11-4 on Thursday night. … More »

    AP - Sports - 14 minutes ago
  • Phelps beaten in first comeback final

    Phelps beaten in first comeback final

    By Julian Linden PHOENIX (Reuters) - Michael Phelps suffered a narrow loss to old rival Ryan Lochte in his comeback to competitive swimming on Thursday, but still showed enough to suggest he will be a force to be reckoned with. Racing for the … More »

    Reuters - 17 minutes ago
  • Martin shoots course record 62, leads by two in New Orleans

    (Reuters) - Ben Martin fired a course record 10-under-par 62 to take a two-stroke lead in the opening round of the $6.8 million Zurich Classic of New Orleans on Thursday. Martin made light of gusting afternoon winds to reel off 10 birdies, capped … More »

    Reuters - 19 minutes ago
  • Toronto Blue Jays fall back to .500 mark after 11-4 loss to Baltimore Orioles

    TORONTO - The Toronto Blue Jays wasted a quality start by Drew Hutchison and fell back to the .500 mark by dropping an 11-4 decision to the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday night at Rogers Centre. Hutchison worked six solid innings and left the game … More »

    The Canadian Press - 19 minutes ago
  • Teague scores 22, Korver 20 to lead Hawks past top-seeded Pacers 98-85 for 2-1 lead in series

    Teague scores 22, Korver 20 to lead Hawks past top-seeded Pacers 98-85 for 2-1 lead in series

    ATLANTA - Jeff Teague flung in a wild 3-pointer after the officials appeared to miss him stepping out of bounds, and Kyle Korver finished off Indiana from beyond the arc to lead the Atlanta Hawks to a 98-85 victory Thursday night and another lead in … More »

    The Canadian Press - 27 minutes ago
  • Prince Down the Lane

    Prince Down the Lane

    Tayshaun Prince drives the lane for the finger-roll finish. … More »

    NBA.com - 28 minutes ago
  • Trip Tips: Brazil's beachless metropolis is a foodie's paradise

    Trip Tips: Brazil's beachless metropolis is a foodie's paradise

    By Todd Benson SAO PAULO (Reuters) - If your idea of Brazil is beaches and bikinis, São Paulo is not the place to go. But if you're a seasoned traveler who tends to shun traditional tourism hot spots for urban adventures off the beaten trail, then … More »

    Reuters - 29 minutes ago
  • Swimming-Phelps beaten in first comeback final

    * Phelps narrowly beaten by Lochte in comeback race * Still satisfied with return despite loss * Qualifies for national titles later this year (Updates after final) By Julian Linden PHOENIX, April 24 (Reuters) - Michael Phelps suffered a narrow … More »

    Reuters - 31 minutes ago
  • Golf-Martin shoots course record 62, leads by two in New Orleans

    Ben Martin fired a course record 10-under-par 62 to take a two-stroke lead in the opening round of the $6.8 million Zurich Classic of New Orleans on Thursday. Martin made light of gusting afternoon winds to reel off 10 birdies, capped off by a … More »

    Reuters - 35 minutes ago
  • Blatter wants to revive 6+5 proposal

    Blatter wants to revive 6+5 proposal

    FIFA president Sepp Blatter wants to revive his so-called 6+5 proposal which would force clubs to field at least six players from their own country. The idea won the backing of the FIFA Congress in 2008 but was ditched after it fell foul of … More »

    Reuters - 40 minutes ago
  • Fresno St. finalizes DeRuyter extension

    FRESNO, Calif. (AP) -- Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter has signed a contract extension that runs through 2018 worth at least $7.5 million. … More »

    AP - Sports - 40 minutes ago
  • Phelps loses to Lochte in comeback meet

    Phelps loses to Lochte in comeback meet

    Michael Phelps is 0 for 1 in his comeback to the pool. The 22-time Olympic medalist lost to Ryan Lochte in the 100-meter butterfly final at the Arena Grand Prix on Thursday night. Phelps took second in 52.13 in his first meet since retiring after … More »

    AP - Sports - 41 minutes ago
  • The day Senna grabbed F1's attention

    The day Senna grabbed F1's attention

    By Alan Baldwin LONDON (Reuters) - While Formula One remembers Ayrton Senna on the 20th anniversary of his death at Imola, happier memories of another race 10 years earlier highlight just why the great Brazilian is still so sorely missed. The 1984 … More »

    Reuters - 43 minutes ago
  • Senna's simple grave a magnet for fans 20 years on

    Senna's simple grave a magnet for fans 20 years on

    By Andrew Downie SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Ayrton Senna is as discreet in death as he was lively in life. The last resting place of Brazil's most charismatic Formula One champion is marked by a brass plaque on a circular lawn, surrounded by almost … More »

    Reuters - 46 minutes ago
  • Ayrton Senna's Formula One career

    Ayrton Senna's Formula One career

    (Reuters) - May 1 marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Brazil's triple Formula One champion Ayrton Senna in the San Marino Grand Prix at Italy's Imola circuit. The following details the main points of his career: - - - - * Born Ayrton Senna … More »

    Reuters - 47 minutes ago
  • Ryan Nelsen sympathetic to Moyse, believes fired Man U boss will succeed elsewhere

    TORONTO - Toronto FC manager Ryan Nelsen was quick to offer sympathy — and support — to fired Manchester United boss David Moyes. "He's very good at what he does," Nelsen said Thursday after practice. "And what (Roberto) Martinez is doing at … More »

    The Canadian Press - 54 minutes ago
  • Teague Beats the Buzzer

    Teague Beats the Buzzer

    Jeff Teague drains an amazing 3-pointer during the fourth quarter. … More »

    NBA.com - 56 minutes ago
  • Wings' Zetterberg in lineup vs. Bruins

    Wings' Zetterberg in lineup vs. Bruins

    Henrik Zetterberg is in the lineup for the Detroit Red Wings in Game 4 against the Boston Bruins. Jonas Gustavsson is, too. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock told reporters that doctors would ultimately decide if Zetterberg could play Thursday night … More »

    AP - Sports - 58 minutes ago
  • Reds' Simon accused of sexual assault

    Reds' Simon accused of sexual assault

    A woman has filed a lawsuit alleging that Cincinnati Reds pitcher Alfredo Simon sexually assaulted her in a Washington hotel when the team was in town to play the Nationals. According to a suit filed Thursday in D.C. Superior Court, the woman, … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 3 minutes ago
  • Westbrook for Three

    Westbrook for Three

    Russell Westbrook comes off the screen to drain his first three-pointer of the game. … More »

    NBA.com - 1 hour 5 minutes ago
  • Korver's Big Three

    Korver's Big Three

    Kyle Korver gets fouled and buries a 3-pointer from the wing. … More »

    NBA.com - 1 hour 7 minutes ago
  • Martin shoots course-record 62 at Zurich

    Martin shoots course-record 62 at Zurich

    A few weeks ago, Ben Martin had missed seven of eight cuts and figured he'd better make some changes. On Thursday, Martin treated a tiny late-afternoon gallery to a course-record round, shooting a 10-under 62 in the first round of the Zurich … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 10 minutes ago
  • Udrih Sinks the Leaner

    Udrih Sinks the Leaner

    Beno Udrih sinks the leaning jumper off the screen by Marc Gasol. … More »

    NBA.com - 1 hour 14 minutes ago
  • Perkins Sits On Miller

    Perkins Sits On Miller

    Kendrick Perkins sits on top of Mike Miller during the second quarter. … More »

    NBA.com - 1 hour 14 minutes ago
  • Golf-U.S. PGA Tour New Orleans Classic scores

    April 25 (Infostrada Sports) - Scores from the U.S. PGA Tour New Orleans Classic at the par-72 course on Thursday in Avondale, Louisiana 62 Ben Martin (U.S.) 62 64 Andrew Svoboda (U.S.) 64 65 Peter Hanson (Sweden) 65 Noh Seung-Yul (South Korea) 65 … More »

    Reuters - 1 hour 17 minutes ago
  • Imola still a shock 20 years on for Hill

    Imola still a shock 20 years on for Hill

    By Alan Baldwin LONDON (Reuters) - When Damon Hill casts his mind back 20 years to the Imola weekend that claimed the lives of team mate Ayrton Senna and Austrian Roland Ratzenberger, it is with a sense of almost disbelief. "I hardly got a chance … More »

    Reuters - 1 hour 22 minutes ago
  • Former world downhill champion Kucera retires

    (Reuters) - John Kucera, the first Canadian man to win an alpine ski world championship downhill title, announced his retirement on Thursday following a string of injuries. The highlight of Kucera's racing career came in 2009 when he was the … More »

    Reuters - 1 hour 24 minutes ago
  • Ex-Maryland C Cleare signs with Texas

    AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Former Maryland center Shaquille Cleare has signed to play the rest of his college basketball for Texas. … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 24 minutes ago
  • Jackson to Ibaka

    Jackson to Ibaka

    Reggie Jackson lobs to Serge Ibaka coming off the pick and roll for the alley-oop slam. … More »

    NBA.com - 1 hour 27 minutes ago
  • Search for safety has IndyCar going in circles

    By Steve Keating TORONTO (Reuters) - While an entire generation of Formula One fans has grown up without knowing the emotional trauma of a racing death, followers of IndyCar have been constantly reminded about the ultimate price some drivers must … More »

    Reuters - 1 hour 30 minutes ago
  • For Mosley, safety is Senna's lasting legacy

    By Alan Baldwin LONDON (Reuters) - It has been 20 years since Formula One last suffered a driver fatality but that milestone, an achievement that would once have stretched credulity, will get less attention than the anniversary of Ayrton Senna's … More »

    Reuters - 1 hour 30 minutes ago
  • Golf-European Tour China Open scores

    April 25 (Infostrada Sports) - Scores from the European Tour China Open at the par-72 course on Friday in Shenzhen 67 Alvaro Quiros (Spain) 67 Simon Dyson (Britain) 67 68 Tyrrell Hatton (Britain) 68 Adrian Otaegui (Spain) 68 David Horsey (Britain) … More »

    Reuters - 1 hour 31 minutes ago
  • FACTBOX - Ayrton Senna's Formula One career

    (Reuters) - May 1 marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Brazil's triple Formula One champion Ayrton Senna in the San Marino Grand Prix at Italy's Imola circuit. The following details the main points of his career: - - - - * Born Ayrton Senna … More »

    Reuters - 1 hour 34 minutes ago
  • FACTBOX- Imola 1994, Formula One's tragic weekend

    (Reuters) - Formula One is remembering Brazilian Ayrton Senna and Austrian Roland Ratzenberger on the 20th anniversary of their deaths in 1994 at the San Marino Grand Prix at Italy's Imola circuit. Triple champion Senna had started on pole position … More »

    Reuters - 1 hour 34 minutes ago
  • Imola remembers Senna 20 years after fatal crash

    Imola remembers Senna 20 years after fatal crash

    By Isla Binnie IMOLA, Italy (Reuters) - Twenty years after Ayrton Senna died at Imola's race track, the town is gearing up to honor a Formula One driver it remembers as much for his charity and charisma as his three world championship wins. I … More »

    Reuters - 1 hour 34 minutes ago
  • Unheralded Ratzenberger, gone but never forgotten

    By Ed Osmond LONDON (Reuters) - Perhaps Roland Ratzenberger was always destined to be an understudy. Twenty-four hours after Ratzenberger was killed during practice for the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, three-times world champion Ayrton Senna died in … More »

    Reuters - 1 hour 34 minutes ago
  • Senna had so much to offer, says sister

    By Andrew Downie SAO PAULO (Reuters) - For Brazilians of a certain generation, the death of Ayrton Senna is not unlike September 11 or the assassination of John F. Kennedy. "It's funny, it doesn't seem like it was 20 years ago," his sister Viviane … More »

    Reuters - 1 hour 34 minutes ago
  • I miss the fun we had with Ayrton, says Dennis

    By Alan Baldwin LONDON (Reuters) - Ask Ron Dennis what he misses most from the time when Ayrton Senna was driving for his McLaren Formula One team and the answer may come as a surprise. "I remember the laughter and the fun," he reminisced to … More »

    Reuters - 1 hour 34 minutes ago
  • World Cup stadium delays affect ticket availability - FIFA

    World Cup stadium delays affect ticket availability - FIFA

    By Pedro Fonseca RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazil's failure to meet construction deadlines for World Cup stadiums means FIFA does not know how many tickets to make available for the tournament, which kicks off in less than two months, FIFA's … More »

    Reuters - 1 hour 36 minutes ago