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SWAC just doesn't land blue-chippers

By Staff
Jan. 17, 2002
Teams throw more forward passes. Linemen now weigh 300 pounds, yet they can run. The Split T and the Wishbone formations are now history. Stadiums are bigger and coaches are paid like rock stars. Average players continue to stay in college four years but the super talented leave after three or even two.
Can you think of any other way football has changed in the last 30 years? We'll give you a hint. Try the kids themselves and their attitude toward the game.
Youngsters once dreamed of being good enough to earn a scholarship in order to get a college education. Today they dream of being good enough to play in the NFL and collect the big money.
They want to go to a school that appears regularly on television so their talents will be seen. They want to to hear the roar of 50,000, 60,000, even 100,000 spectators in their ears. They want to travel first class and live first class. And they want to play in a bowl game, preferably on or after Jan. 1.
And that is exactly why teams in the Southwestern Athletic Conference and other I-AA leagues are struggling.
Jackson State, Alcorn and Mississippi Valley are Mississippi's SWAC teams schools with great traditions and famous football alumni. But in today's football world they can't compete for the cream of the high school crop and the kids themselves prove it.
Last week The Jackson Clarion-Ledger published a story on their opinion of the 10 Most Wanted Recruits in the state as well as the Best of the Rest and a third category called simply The Rest.
Of the 10 most wanted list, three had committed to Mississippi State. Four had committed to Ole Miss. Of the three whose minds had not yet been made up, they indicated their choice would be from a list that included Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia, Auburn, Tennessee and Southern Mississippi.
Not one of the the players considered to be the 10 best in the state mentioned a single SWAC school. Yet, according to the pictures published with the article, nine of the 10 are black. A shutout for JSU, Alcorn and Mississippi Valley of the nine best black players in the state wouldn't have happened 20 or 30 years ago.
The Best of the Rest list has 15 names on it. Seven of those youngsters were committed to Mississippi State. Four were committed to Southern Mississippi. The balance were considering State, Ole Miss, Georgia, Tennessee, LSU even Troy State and UL-Lafayette but none indicated Jackson State, Alcorn or Mississippi Valley were under consideration.
Of what are perceived to be the best 25 high school football players in the state of Mississippi, not one indicated they were leaning toward playing their college football at a SWAC school.
The Rest list had 15 more names. Only three of that third classification were considering JSU. None had committed. No other SWAC school was mentioned.
In other words, only three of the top 40 football players in our state even mentioned a SWAC school, yet the majority were black athletes.
I shouldn't have to say this, but I will. This is not a knock in any way shape or form against the Southwestern Athletic Conference or the kids themselves. I've watched Jackson State play a number of times. When Steve McNair was at Alcorn I covered the games for The Meridian Star on numerous occasions. I have a great deal of respect for the schools in that league. They have had many outstanding players over the years, Walter Payton for one.
But the kids have changed. Today they want all the things previously mentioned. To be on television so their friends and relatives can see them. The SWAC, or any other Division I-AA conference, doesn't offer the same number of opportunities. To ride in charter airplanes rather than buses. In the SEC if Ole Miss or MSU are playing LSU in Baton Rouge, a four-to-five hour bus ride at the most, the schools charter an airplane to get them there. You can imagine the difference in cost. That wouldn't be an option at most SWAC schools.
The proof of what has happened in college football is in the NFL draft. Passing history or biology or any other class doesn't mean a thing. Where your daddy played is pointless. Attitude counts some but they're willing to overlook it or Randy Moss wouldn't be in the NFL. The only thing the pros care about is, can you play at the highest level?
Last year there were 40 Southeastern Conference players selected in the NFL draft. I doubt if there were five selected from the SWAC and, if memory serves me correctly, none from the three Mississippi members. Maybe one, but I don't remember any.
As this past season began there were 206 former SEC players on pro rosters. There were only a handful from Division I-AA conferences. That wouldn't, and didn't, happen 30 years ago. It wouldn't, and didn't, happen 20 years ago.
When school segregation ended it was a blow to black colleges. MSU, Ole Miss and USM started to drain off the athletic talent. When money and the high life became so important to the youngsters who played the game and they bought the pitch, it was another blow.
Last year the SEC took in $33.7 million for football television, $13.3 million from bowls and $6.8 million from the SEC football championship. Toss in the basketball dollars the league earns and the pot totaled $78.1 million to be split among the 12 league members and that's before they counted their ticket sales, concessions, gifts from alumni, sky box rentals and other sources.
The game has indeed changed. Somewhere, sometime a coach may bring back the wishbone or win by downplaying passing in favor of running the ball 90 percent of the time, but recruiting as it is today isn't going to change.
When a talented football player gets to be 18 or 19 he isn't going to turn his back on what it's like to live rich. It won't be until he gets out of school that he'll remember what it was like to be poor.