FAMU football's playoff snub is the latest case of HBCU sports being undervalued | G. Thomas

Disappointed? Yes.

Surprised? No.

That's the simplest way I can describe my feelings from Florida A&M football's season ending via the FCS Selection Sunday broadcast.

Let's call it what it is — a snubbing.

How does a team that was ranked No. 20 in the FCS Coaches' Poll not make a 24-team bracket playoff bid?

"It's a question that we'll be searching for answers to for a long time," FAMU coach Willie Simmons said his closing press conference on Monday.

"The coaches across the country thought we were one of the top teams in the country, but the selection committee didn't think that. What's that based off of, I couldn't tell you.

"I think there needs to be some further conversation about the overall mission of the FCS playoffs and what the criteria is for teams being included."

The selection committee shortchanged a surging Rattlers (9-2, 7-1 SWAC) team whose season and record come with a lot of context.

My question is: Were they even paying attention as FAMU's season unfolded?


► ShineTime: FAMU football receiver Xavier Smith is a Bragg Memorial Stadium legend

► Back 2 Back!: FAMU volleyball repeats as SWAC champions. What's next for the Rattlers?

► Orlando's Own: FAMU football's Bohler Brothers return home to play first and last Florida Classic together

FAMU fights through adversity and finishes strong — still gets no love from FCS voters

Everyone remembers what happened on the eve of FAMU's season opener at North Carolina when 26 players were deactivated by NCAA certification and eligibility rulings.

But FAMU players not affected made the gutsy decision to board their Allegiant Air charter flight minus 16% of the roster to take on ACC opponent North Carolina in a Week 0 matchup.

Key players such as linebacker Isaiah Land, cornerback BJ Bohler, and right tackle Cameron Covin didn't make the trip.

But the Rattlers fought and fought, losing 56-24 to the Tar Heels while missing a chunk of the roster.

Then FAMU caught a South Beach beatdown against SWAC rival Jackson State, losing 59-3 and tumbling to 0-2 while still impacted by certification issues and the national coverage associated with the turmoil.

Well, UNC is ranked No. 18 and clinched a ACC championship game berth last week after beating Wake Forest. Jackson State is ranked No. 5 in the FCS and will play in the SWAC title game on Dec. 3.

What happened after those early blows?

Nine straight wins.

FAMU, the NCAA and the SWAC worked together to deal with players' certification issues. The Rattlers got hot and ran the table.

Rattlers, who compiled an FCS record of 8-1, did not lose for nearly three months spanning from the Week 2 win over Albany State and the season finale against rival Bethune-Cookman in the Florida Classic.

When you have a team that is surging by season's end, you reward them with the opportunity to put it to the test for at least one more week.

The FAMU Rattlers defeated the BCU Wildcats 41-20 during the annual Florida Classic at Camping World Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022.
The FAMU Rattlers defeated the BCU Wildcats 41-20 during the annual Florida Classic at Camping World Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022.

Was FAMU's 2021 playoff bid insincere? It's possible.

Let's go ahead and start by saying that no HBCUs were selected in the 2022 FCS playoffs.

This comes a year after the Rattlers were voted in as an at-large selection for the first time in 20 years.

Before that, the last HBCU to make the FCS playoff bracket was North Carolina A&T in 2016.

This makes FAMU's 2021 FCS postseason appearance look disingenuous to fit a narrative of equitable inclusion.

"The (FCS Playoff Committee) chairman (Jermaine Traux) said that the goal is not inclusion — it's to create the most competitive 24-team field that they can put together," Simmons said. "If that's the goal and mission of the FCS committee, then HBCUs have an uphill battle as far as being represented in the FCS playoffs.

"This will definitely be addressed at the FCS Coaches' Committee National Convention. I'm one of two HBCU coaches in it and I'm going to address it to the entire field.

"It's going to take our white counterparts and peers to get on this bandwagon as well because this is definitely an injustice to these young men that have done so much for this program and deserved the right to extend their season to play for an FCS championship."

Granted, North Carolina Central (8-2) won the MEAC and will head to the HBCU Celebration Bowl and play against the SWAC champion on Dec. 17.

This season's NCAT (7-4) team fell to Gardner Webb in the Big South Championship last week and lost out on its automatic playoff bid opportunity.

The CAA and the Big Sky conferences makes up 42 percent of the playoff pool with five teams each being selected.

A spiraling Delaware (7-4) made the playoff as an at-large selection after losing four of its last six games and finished sixth in the CAA. This includes losing its final two games of the regular season.

Idaho and Montana are both 7-4 Big Sky teams. Montana's lasting impression was losing to Montana State, 55-21 in the season finale.

You might as well call the FCS playoffs the "CAA-Big Sky Showdown."

Especially if it is going to be 10 teams across a pair of conferences taking spots from other deserving teams.

"Unfortunately, we're still in a situation where we have to be twice as good to get half as much in this country," Simmons said. "When you see seven win teams that finished in the middle half of their conference get an invite and we don't, that's baffling and disheartening.

"We cried and hugged it out a little bit, and we gave the seniors their final farewell. Then we charged the returning guys to not be in this place again of allowing someone else to control our destiny."

Florida A&M University  players celebrate their win over Alabama State University following their game at Hornet Stadium in Montgomery, Ala. on Saturday November 12, 2022.

Florida A&M University players celebrate their win over Alabama State University following their game at Hornet Stadium in Montgomery, Ala. on Saturday November 12, 2022. Asu31

The blatant disrespect of the SWAC and HBCU football amplified on a national stage

The true feelings of Black College Football were on full display Sunday.

It's evident that FCS voters think the SWAC is weak and FAMU lacks competitive opponents.

Those who watched the games know that's far from the truth, seeing the Rattlers get a run for their money against capable conference foes.

Craig Haley of listed FAMU's schedule 86th in FCS rankings and there's a lot of chatter around the Rattlers not having any quality wins.

"The SWAC and MEAC has always been knocked for quote, unquote lack of quality competition," Simmons said. "Our strength of schedule is always near the bottom of the country.

"We play the teams in our conference, so if they're saying our strength of schedule is week, they're saying that the SWAC and MEAC is weak.

"There's clearly a distinction that's unspoken amongst FCS conferences."

So let's take a look at a team like Southeastern Louisiana (8-3), which defeated FAMU in the first round last season.

The Lions got an automatic bid after winning the Southland.

SELA beat McNeese State, 28-27. McNeese State lost to Alcorn State, 30-19.

SELA also beat Northwestern State, 23-7. Northwestern State lost to Grambling State, 47-21.

Common distinction of Alcorn and Grambling? SWAC.

Florida A&M University plays walked interlocked during pregame against Southern at Bragg Memorial Stadium, Tallahassee, Florida, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022
Florida A&M University plays walked interlocked during pregame against Southern at Bragg Memorial Stadium, Tallahassee, Florida, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022

Where do we go from here?

FAMU was faulted for scheduling Division II Albany State, the reigning SIAC champions.

The reasoning behind the game was so FAMU could spread the wealth of 'money games' to a fellow, but smaller HBCU as it did in 2021 versus Fort Valley.

As the game is now considered a knock against the Rattlers, Division II programs may take the fall for an FCS opponent to strengthen the schedule to help the next round of voting in 2023.

"I don't think that's a decision we should be forced to make because eight FCS wins to me is enough to make the playoffs," Simmons said. "We've always played Division II's that our fans really enjoy seeing and they rely on that revenue that we pay them to come play.

"For us to make a decision to no longer play those games takes away from our core values and mission as a university.

"Clearly there's a misalignment between what we as a university think is important and what the NCAA feels is important in their playoff selections."

I also saw an idea for a proposed HBCU Celebration Bowl tournament, where the top two teams of the SWAC and MEAC participate to deflect a possible future snubbing.

Similar to the College Football Playoff, but different because of conference ties.

"I think there's always room in conversation about how to possibly expand the MEAC-SWAC challenge to uplift the brands of HBCUs," Simmons said. "Maybe's there's space to do our own playoff system and do our own four-team playoff to determine a true HBCU national champion on the field.

"That will involve a lot of people, but I do think it's something worth talking about and will be great for our league."

I'm intrigued to say the least and I'm sure HBCU football fans agree.

Gerald Thomas III covers FAMU athletics for the Tallahassee Democrat. Contact him via email at or on Twitter @3peatgee.

Follow the Tallahassee Democrat on social media at Tallahassee Democrat (Facebook), TallahasseeDemocrat (Instagram), and @TDOnline (Twitter)

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: FAMU football column: Rattlers snubbed out of the FCS playoffs