The 2019 Black College Sports Network (BCSN) Black College Football Champions for D1 is the Florida A&M University, who finished the regular season 9-2, 7-1 in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC).

Led by Coach Willie Simmons, in his second year leading the Rattlers, FAMU won 9 games in a row after their opening season loss to D1-FBS Central Florida (UCF), but could not finish the perfect conference season in the last game of the year against rival Bethune-Cookman in the Florida Classic, losing 31-27.

In response to a 5-year probation by the NCAA , Florida A&M announced a self-imposed postseason ban for the 2019-20 school year that affected several athletic programs including football. As a result, the MEAC declared prior to the season that FAMU would not be recognized as the conference champions since they were not eligible to participate in the Celebration Bowl, which matches the conference champions of the MEAC and SWAC.

The MEAC declared NC A&T and South Carolina State co-champions with a 6-2 conference record. A&T was selected as the MEAC representative for the Celebration Bowl given their head-to-head defeat of SC State on November 2. The Aggies went on to win the Celebration Bowl for the third consecutive time and have been claimed by some media outlets the 2019 Black College Football National Champions.

2019 BCSN Top 5 D1 HBCU FB Poll (FINAL)
1.  Florida A&M (9-2, 7-1)
2. NC A&T (9-3, 6-2)
3. Alcorn State (9-4, 6-1)
4. SC State (8-3, 6-2)
5. Southern (8-5, 6-1)

So why is FAMU your D1 Black College National Champions?

After talking with our voters, here are some of the arguments made as to why FAMU remained No.1 after their loss to Bethune-Cookman to the final release of our poll:

Despite the loss at the end of the season, FAMU finished the 11-game regular season with the most wins (9) among FCS football teams. FAMU had quality wins over (No.2) NC A&T, (No.4) South Carolina State and (No.5) Southern. Alcorn State (9-4) would win their 9th game against Southern in the SWAC Championship Game, which was their 12th game played.  North Carolina A&T, 2x defending Black College National Champions for 2017 and 2018, won their 9th game in the Celebration Bowl over Alcorn State to finish their season 9-3.

The two losses by FAMU were the fewest games lost among the top HBCU FCS teams that were in our Top 5 D1 poll throughout the regular season – A&T (3), SC State (3), Alcorn State (4), Southern (4), Bethune-Cookman (4).

Those losses by FAMU were to UCF, who was a Top 20 FBS team at the start of the season and are ranked 32 in college football via the Sports, and their rival BCU on a neutral site.  NC A&T’s 3 losses were at Duke, ranked 79 in FBS, at FAMU and at Morgan State, who finished their season 3-9 and ranked 109 in FCS/367th among all NCAA teams.  SC State’s 3 losses were at South Florida, ranked 89 in FBS, and home to FAMU and NC A&T.

Lastly, FAMU defeated NC A&T head-to-head in Tallahassee on Sunday October 20, 34-31 in OT when backup QB Resean McKay hit WR Marcus Williams in the endzone after A&T kicked a FG to take the lead in overtime.  It was the second consecutive year Simmons and FAMU had defeated the Aggies.

The Cons

While the pros mentioned above were plenty, the obvious con by those that did not vote FAMU No.1, and probably the reason why other media outlet voters have declared NC A&T their black college national champion, is the self-imposed postseason ban.

The NCAA did not require or make FAMU ineligible for the postseason. The postseason ban was an administrative decision that could have been made in previous years, but due to their own instability in years prior, FAMU had reached a point in May 2019 where they were ready to move forward from the years that led to the probation. Should Coach Simmons and his players be penalized for the sins and decisions of other coaches, administrators and administrations? 

College football over the last 30 years has seen unbeaten teams be denied a chance to play for a national championship due to NCAA sanction (Ohio State-2012, Auburn 1993), and even voter bias and computer vs human ranking controversies (UCF-2017, Auburn 2004, Utah 2004). There are even more debates among teams with one-loss.

Unless you have a playoff or bowl game in which everyone is able to play for a championship, it will always be hard to declare an undisputed national champion when the records don’t allow for that scenario to exist.

Celebration Bowl Myth

As great of a vehicle and showcase as the Celebration Bowl has been for HBCUs and Black College Football since it’s inception and debut on ABC/ESPN since 2015, it IS NOT the game to decide the black college national championship.

Sure it features the top teams from the two major HBCU athletic conferences in FCS, but HBCU FCS teams like Tennessee State (member of the Ohio Valley Conference) and Hampton, who just moved from the MEAC to the Big South at the start of this season, do not have a chance to play in this game. When those teams have a 9 or 10-win regular season and compete for their conference’s championship and play in the FCS playoffs, how will black college sports media view them?

And what will happen when a Division-II team has an unbeaten regular season like Bowie State, who plays in the CIAA and hosted a D-II playoff game, did this year and makes a deep run towards the NCAA-sanctioned national championship as Winston-Salem State did in 2011 and 2012, and Tuskegee in 2015, the inaugural year of the Celebration Bowl.

Will voters today have the courage to vote a team like the 1988 and 1989 Central State Marauders, who were the last undisputed black college national champions, as champions even when they didn’t play in the Celebration Bowl?

Taking nothing away from North Carolina A&T’s accomplishments in 2017 and 2018, or Grambling’s championship in 2016, the 2019 Aggies may be called black college national champions by ABC/ESPN and other black college media outlets, but they should have to share that championship claim with the team they lost to in their conference, who also had the best record in their conference.

Dickinson Versus Ratings System Score

Whenever you have an imperfect system, those of us that love numbers will try to quantify the value of wins and losses, opponents, strength of schedule and so forth with analytics to measure who should be ranked where.

Currently, there are 40 different computer and human ranking metrics in FCS college football. And prior to the FCS National Championship game played on January 11, 2020 the No.1 ranked team and defending national champion, North Dakota State, is not ranked No.1 in at least 2 outlets.  Numbers can be made to prove or disprove any poll.

After we saw the results, we wanted to quantify the results. Thanks to the inspiration of Brian Simpkins, a freelance sports writer and graphic designer (Check out his designs HERE), we thought about using a combination of the first mathematical point formula that awarded a national championship in college football and computer-based ranking system that we’ve used throughout the season.

Frank G. Dickinson, a University of Illinois economics professor, crowned college football champions from 1926 to 1940 using a method called The Dickinson System.  His system “awards 30 points for a victory over a strong team, and 20 for victory over a weak team. Defeats count half as much as victories [15 pts vs. strong team, 10 pts vs. weak team]… Dividing this total by the number of games played gives the final rating.”

By no means was the system perfect (remember: numbers can be made to prove or disprove an poll). There were controversies, and when the AP Poll was established in 1936, human votes became more valued than math-calculated polls created by one person.

What defines a “strong” and “weak” team was the first challenge with simply using The Dickinson System. This is where computer analytics come into the picture.  We’ve used the Sports Simulator and Rankings to see predictions and evaluations of teams over the course of the season.  Founder Steve Pugh has created an algorithm that has a 78% accuracy history, and his ratings of college teams (FBS, FCS, DII, DIII, and NAIA) give numerical grades that can translate to A-D grades.  For example, FAMU and NC A&T are ranked 17 and 18, respectively, in the current FCS rankings (as of Dec. 25, 2019), and both have a 94 (A) grade.

Using a combination of both, we created what we’ll loosely call “The Dickinson Versus Ratings System”.  After evaluating the grades, assigning points to the wins and losses, then dividing by the number of games played against NCAA or NAIA opponents, here are the results:

The Dickinson Versus Ratings System Scores for 2019 HBCU Football Season
1.  Florida A&M (20.91 score)
2. North Carolina A&T (20.83 score)
3. South Carolina State (20.00 score)
4. Alcorn State (19.23 score)
5. Bethune-Cookman (18.64 score)
6. Southern (17.92 score*)
did not count game against Virginia U-Lynchburg

To our surprise, the difference between FAMU and NC A&T was .08, and the MEAC teams had the top 3 scores. Seems right for two teams that will split the claim of Black College National Champions and a conference that was already believed to be tougher than the SWAC in 2019.

Another interesting metric we looked at was what would the scores have been if Alcorn State had beaten NC A&T in the Celebration Bowl?  The Braves score would have scored 20.38, which at 10-3 would have put them behind FAMU at 20.91.  Can you imagine how that would have gone over?

Final thought

2020 marks the 100th year of a black college football national champion as selected by black media. The Pittsburgh Courier selected two teams as black college football national champions in 1920 – Howard, (7-0) who were coached by Edward Morrison, and Talladega College (5-0-1) who were coached by Jubie Bragg.

It’s only fitting that we have multiple black college football national champions given the history of the sport. From newspapers to magazines to radio and websites, black media outlets have carried the torch first lit by the Pittsburgh Courier. We are the caretakers of our sports, our schools and our teams. You only need to see attendance numbers across the country to see that the HBCU football product is as strong today as it was 20-30 years ago.

Let’s embrace the debate and congratulate the champions.  Our champions are from the highest of seven hills in Tallahassee, FL… The Florida A&M University Rattlers.