Tennessee State latest to test worth of HBCU guaranteed games with Power 5 competition

Tennessee State University recently announced a historic addition to their 2023 football schedule, a matchup with college football blue blood Notre Dame.

The intention, according to head football coach and former NFL all-pro running back Eddie George, is to cultivate the resources from the guaranteed revenue from the game to transform TSU into a potential FBS-caliber program.

“We continue to make investments not only in our football program but holistically in our student-athlete development programs,” [Tennessee State Athletic Director] Dr. Mikki Allen said. “Like, you reference our facilities.  To advance our programs, we know that we need support. And so this game guarantee is something that will be special. But we’re also getting private funding. And people in our Big Blue community are really buying into what we’re doing.”

HBCU Gameday

There’s no reason to doubt the vision of a head coach that’s played at the highest levels of college and professional football, or a sports culture at TSU that wants to be regarded as the best. But there’s plenty of reason to doubt how the guaranteed game model, regardless of how big the check may be from Notre Dame, isn’t the best or most sustainable for Tennessee State or any HBCU to consider.

HBCUs have been playing in these bloodbath games for at least 40 years, and none of the money generated has transformed any HBCU program into an FBS-level program, or even a consistent Division I mid-major brand.

These games have gotten players hurt, significantly damaged brands with lopsided final scores, and even HBCU coaches have begun to speak out about how the disadvantages of these games don’t equal the checks cut in return.

“Normally when you play against a powerhouse like I see some of the HBCU schools have taken, it helps the budget, but it kills the morale,” Sanders said. “How can getting your butt kicked, I mean really kicked, help you as a team? Financially, cool. All money ain’t good money.”

USA Today

More than this, Power 5 teams looking for national rankings and television deals are going away from schedules being blemished by cupcake out-of-conference wins against unranked and out-of-division opponents. Sportico analyzed the fading future of these games in a review of guaranteed games for Alabama State University and North Carolina Central University.

In a clear nod to the Southeastern Conference accepting Texas and Oklahoma in 2025, UCLA has left itself room to adapt to the expected shifts coming to the college sports landscape. After the change, the SEC will have 16 schools, likely meaning eight in-conference football games instead of seven. That leaves even fewer out-of-conference games to be scheduled. Thus, these early-season FBS versus FCS matchups may be harder to come by in the future.

UCLA’s conference, the Pac-12, recently announced a strategic alliance with the Big Ten and ACC designed to bring new interconference football and basketball games to the forefront, in hopes of competing with the SEC for television viewership and media rights money. All together, the three Power Five conferences include 40 schools.

As the complex web of conference realignment begins to unfurl, the future of these guarantee games will be in flux, delivering a big financial blow to small schools like Alabama State and NCCU and potentially exacerbating the chasm between the haves and have-nots of college athletics.


There are multiple sides to every socioeconomic debate but ultimately in the case of HBCU athletics, they all lead to lead to one inevitable question – how does an HBCU make money when student enrollment, alumni giving and corporate support are not reliable factors?

One thought on “Tennessee State latest to test worth of HBCU guaranteed games with Power 5 competition

  1. It is the American way! Attack a village replete with women and children with Gatlin Guns, even though it is defended by bows and arrows. Notre Dame playing Tennessee State does nothing for Tennessee State except getting a bunch of starters hurt and destroying morale. It is not just HBCUs. Western Carolina played Alabama a few times and was beaten by a hundred points. This madness has to stop. Not all money is good money.

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