College football will kick off this weekend with a match of particular interest to those who follow the racial angle of the sport. The University of Georgia Bulldogs will play the Boise State Broncos in a nationally televised game. Boise State is ranked fifth in the nation, and has a chance to win the national championship. Georgia is ranked lower than usual at 19th, but is typically a top contender in college football.
The game will be as close to a black versus white contest as possible in modern day college football, with two schools that are perfect examples of two very different racial mentalities.
Boise State plays a more finesse oriented game while Georgia is known as a big, physical team. But more important is the mentality behind which players the two schools tend to recruit. Boise State builds their team around white kids from Idaho and surrounding states while Georgia recruits mainly blacks.
Georgia starts 20 black players and only two whites. The Bulldogs have several white backups, but only the quarterback and center will be white when the team takes the field. On defense, all 11 starters are black. This is the blackest team ever for Georgia and since the school recruits almost no white high school players, an all-black starting lineup cannot be far off.
Only one white man on the entire defensive roster is playing on scholarship. Most of the whites on the team are walk-ons, meaning they do not get scholarships to play. The NCAA limits the number of football scholarships a team can offer, and at the University of Georgia they are reserved almost exclusively for black players.
Boise State starts 16 white men, including a quarterback named Kellen Moore, who is a candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Another rarity nowadays: three starting white receivers. Most of Boise State’s back-up players are also white, so when the camera pans the Broncos sideline it will be a sea of mostly white faces.
The racial aspect of this matchup is even more interesting given that Georgia plays in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) which is made up of Deep South teams such as the University of Alabama, Ole Miss, Louisiana State University (LSU), Auburn University, University of Tennessee and other Southern teams. The SEC was the last conference in college football to integrate, and some teams were all white into the 1970s. Even the ones that did have blacks only fielded a few tokens. This did not stop the SEC from winning national championships, and Southern whites took great pride in the success of their teams.
Now several SEC teams have almost all-black starting lineups. Florida has only one white starter and did not offer a scholarship to a single white player in its 2010 recruiting class. Rosters in the SEC range from a relatively white-friendly nine starters at Vanderbilt to the lone paleface at Florida. Other mostly black teams include Mississippi State (two white starters), South Carolina (three), Tennessee (four), LSU (four) and Alabama (five).
Southern whites have the reputation of being the most racially conscious whites in the country. They are also known as the most passionate college football fans. Almost all the fans, boosters, coaches and financial donors to SEC schools are white. Why do they identify so strongly with teams that have gone from all-white to almost all-black in just 40 years? I write in depth on this issue in a forthcoming article at Alternative Right:
My own belief is that Southern whites are able to separate their political/cultural/racial views from their football allegiances. College football is a religion in the South, and game days are filled with parties, cook-outs, drinks, friends, and flirting.
Many of these white fans, even if they are racially conscious, have no problem with their nearly all-black teams. They would say that blacks dominate the rosters because they are better athletes, and they want the best teams.
But all-white high schools throughout the US-including the South-usually win state high school football championships, often by defeating all-black schools. Few of these white athletes are recruited and offered scholarships by top Southern schools.
For example, Eric Breitenstein is a five-foot, ten-inch, 225-pound running back who ran a very fast 4.49 for the 40 yards (the main time used to gauge the speed of a running back). He was North Carolina’s high school football player of the year in 2007 and ran for an amazing 2,619 yards his junior year. Yet he was not recruited by the University of North Carolina, North Carolina State or any other major university. He is currently winding down his career at tiny Wofford University, where he was a second team all-American last year and a pre-season candidate for the Walter Payton Award, given to the most outstanding offensive player in Division I football.
The blog Stuff Black People Don’t Like is doing a series on the changing racial makeup of SEC teams and it makes for fascinating reading. The author went to an SEC school and was a top high school athlete. He knows many of the SEC fans and several of the white players and former players on SEC teams. He assures me that the white fans are very conservative and many wave Confederate flags (often in their team colors) at the tailgating parties before the games. It takes a strange devotion to football for at least somewhat racially conscious whites to cheer for almost all-black teams against mostly white teams.
The same day as the Georgia-Boise State contest, there will be a similar matchup between Brigham Young University (BYU), which starts 14 whites and six Polynesians, and another SEC school, Ole Miss, which has only four white starters. BYU safety Daniel Sorenson has come under attack for comments he made in an interview:
“What if we go out there and dominate (at Ole Miss, Sept. 3) and people start seeing us? And they put us on the map, and we’re on ESPN. And they start wondering who these kids are–what are they doing with their lives, and why are they so good?
“And maybe a bunch of white boys out there go down and beat up on an SEC team, a big, physical team like (Ole Miss). If we go in there and dominate, what does that say? It starts raising questions and curiosity.”
Perhaps victories or even just strong showings on Saturday by white-heavy teams such as Boise State and BYU will make some SEC fans wonder why whites are disappearing from “their” teams.
Joe Kowalski writes on race and sports for Caste Football