ESPN’s lack of awareness regarding how it presents important HBCU sporting events is once again being scrutinized – this time by head football coaches Deion Sanders and Willie Simmons.
The network decided to air the Orange Blossom Classic with Jackson State and Florida A&M on ESPN 2 and not ESPN’s national coverage. Instead, the highly controversial outing between two SWAC favorites is scheduled for ESPN 2 coverage at 3:00 p.m. ET on September 4.
According ShowBuzzDailylast season’s contest drew 707,000 viewers for a 0.42 rating on ESPN 2, and nearly 36,000 spectators watched at Hard Rock Stadium.
The attraction of the game surrounds two legendary football programs with equally great coaches, teams and players starting the new season. Coaches Deion Sanders and Willie Simmons were unhappy with the lower-tier broadcast announced by ESPN.
Is the network tone tone deaf to HBCUs and/or more focused on Power 5 programming?
Coach Deion Sanders wrote on social media: “ESPN please check the ratings from a year ago and see how we compared to the Power 5s playing the same day? ESPN you better than that and many smarter than that. Check the notes, please.”
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“Deion Sander and I agree that the Classic Orange Blossom September 4 is scheduled to be nationally televised on ESPN. The Buck Buchanan Award Recipient Land of Isaiah and the reigning @JerryRice Winner Sanders go head to head! Last year’s game was decided by 1 pt. “, Willie Simmons posted in support of Sanders.
Last season’s OBC saw the Coach Prime Tigers defeat the Rattlers 7-6 in a defensive battle. Also, consider this fact. Jackson State swept the SWAC and played in the 2021 Celebration Bowl – one game away from an HBCU National Championship. Coach Simmons’ FAMU squad earned a trip to the 2021 FCS playoffs.
Both teams have supportive fanbases that travel well and tune into live broadcasts.
For a network very ratings conscious, why would they choose to present the SWAC/MEAC Challenge in Week 0 with Alabama State vs. Howard on ESPN rather than the Orange Blossom Classic between better known brands of JSU and FAMU?
Nobody knows for sure, but my best guess is that Sanders and Simmons aren’t done expressing their displeasure about it. Will it affect a change?
We will see.