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The A&T Register

The Student News Site of North Carolina A&T State University

The A&T Register

The Student News Site of North Carolina A&T State University

The A&T Register


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Has Changing Conferences Damaged the HBCU Football Culture Surrounding N.C. A&T?

News & Record
Andrew Krech
News & Record

For the second year in a row, the N.C. A&T football team has started off winless through the first three games of the season.

Last year, the team was able to turn their 0-3 start into an overall record of 7-4. The Aggies ended the season losing in the Big South Conference championship game to Gardner-Webb.

Despite a similar disappointing start to the season, a turnaround is not as likely for the team as they face much tougher competition this year.

In comparison, a team with seven wins would have finished in 7th place in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) last season. This year’s lack of success has led many people including former players to believe that this stems from A&T changing conferences twice in the last two years. 

Former A&T running back and current tailback for the Orlando Guardians, Jah-Maine Martin, put out a series of tweets last week addressing A&T changing conferences and how it has removed the school from the HBCU football culture.

“Let me explain something, the schedule does matter. HBCU rivalries are real!! Students used to be arguing with other schools, the bands used to have smoke, the teams used to have smoke, [there] was real tension in the air on Saturdays, y’all are just in denial right now,” Martin shared in his tweet. “Show me the lie.”

The former Aggie running back would then go on to emphasize the importance of playing at an HBCU.

“We came to an HBCU for the HBCU experience,” Martin tweeted. “If we wanted to play Townson for homecoming, we would’ve [gone] to UNCG.”

Two other former players for A&T, Ron Hunt and Mac McCain, shared their thoughts on social media and expressed their displeasure with the school for switching conferences in the past two years.

Former A&T quarterback, Jalen Fowler, gave his thoughts on the current status of the team and shared his perspective on why the team is struggling. 

“I wouldn’t say that the team’s struggles have to do with switching conferences. I think the team is struggling to deal with replacing seniors who graduated and other players that transferred to other schools,” Fowler said. “That along with a brand new coaching staff is the cause of the team’s struggles right now.”

The team’s struggle with replacing seniors has presented itself clearly this season, especially at the quarterback position. 

Through three games, quarterbacks Eli Brickhandler and Zachary Yeager have combined for 129 passing yards and zero touchdowns with two interceptions. This is nearly half of a decrease in production from the passing game throughout the first three games last season.

Fowler addressed whether or not switching conferences the past two years has hurt the school’s HBCU football culture.

“I would say going from the MEAC to the Big South and now the CAA has hurt our HBCU culture. When we left the MEAC, we went out on top winning our 3rd consecutive Celebration Bowl,” Fowler said. 

“So we went from expecting to win HBCU National Championships to not even having the opportunity to compete for them. The move to the Big South sort of took us out of the culture we were used to. I will say, it will only get harder because the CAA is an even more competitive conference than the Big South is.”

The culture surrounding HBCUs and college football game days is something that many have looked forward to throughout the years, especially at N.C. A&T. 

Changing conferences has also affected the school’s band, the Blue & Gold Marching Machine, which has been a big part of the culture that has surrounded the school for decades.

Senior sousaphone player, Taylor Ashley, spoke on some of the struggles the band has faced over the past two years.

“The teams we’ve been facing are challenging for the football team this year and it’s harder for the band to keep the audience engaged and cheering for the team. We always have to adapt to the changes and accommodate for the band if we want to be somewhat financially helped by the athletics department,” Ashley said. 

“I’ve been in the band since the COVID year and I feel like the band has only progressed when we get recognition and praise from outside the school. That makes the school care for the band a little more.”

As for this season, the Aggies look to repeat what they did last year and turn their season around this week as they travel to Virginia to take on the Norfolk Spartans. 

Due to A&T changing conferences, the team’s schedule looks much different than it did two years ago in the MEAC conference. 

Facing HBCU teams on a week-to-week basis has become a rare occurrence for the team. The Aggies will only face three HBCUs this season.

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