11:56 PM EDT, September 27, 2007
The significance — and even the news itself — might have escaped many fans and supporters this week. Chowan University in Murfreesboro, N.C., has joined the Hampton-based CIAA as a football member starting in 2008.
It is the first time that a predominantly white institution has joined a historically black college athletic conference, but it might not be the last.
Many fans on the popular black college sports site onnidan.com are skeptical of the union. Others are taking a wait-and-see attitude.
The feelings are similar at Chowan, athletic director Dennis Helsel said.
“The reaction has ranged from ‘Wow, that’s creative!’ to ‘Will it work?’ We haven’t had any outright negative,” Helsel added. “We’ve had some quizzical.”
Eric Moore, founder and Webmaster for onnidan.com, said the relationship is a win for both sides.
“Now you have pretty much broken the mold,” Moore said. “Because you are saying that schools who fit geographically and well as athletically will be welcome.”
Moore said he doesn’t think the union takes anything away from the purity of a historically black college conference, because the colleges for years have had white athletes, and “black colleges will always be historically black.”
Jerry Holmes, defensive coordinator at Hampton University, and a graduate of Chowan when it was a junior college, agreed.
“It’s a good fit for both,” Holmes added. “Chowan has always had a solid program.”
Indeed, the school’s Web site lists 20 athletes, including Holmes, under “Chowan in the NFL.”
Folks having a problem with this arrangement need to get over it quickly. This was a marriage of convenience that is already being looked at by at least one of the other three black conferences.
But first a little recent history.
The CIAA has been hemorrhaging members and looking for new partners. Hampton and Norfolk State left a decade ago, and Winston-Salem and N.C. Central took off recently, hoping for greener pastures in Division I-AA.
Meanwhile, Chowan’s courtship (provisional membership) with the Division III USA South Conference ended when the school was denied full membership in 2004. But in came a new president and new direction — and a decision to move up to Division II.
Chowan had played many of the CIAA schools in nearly all of its sports, and conference membership looked enticing — to both the CIAA and Chowan.
But race, so often an incendiary element, threatened an open love affair.
Credit CIAA commissioner Leon Kerry, a Hampton native. And credit both Helsel and Chowan president M. Christoper White for not letting race be a dividing factor.
All it took was a look ahead and even a look back.
“We want to be out of the box in our thinking,” Kerry said. “We’re looking for people with excellent venues, who play similar sports that we do. It’s not about color.”
Last edited by bige on Thu Oct 04, 2007 1:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.