There are over 20 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in NCAA Division I, but when it comes to media coverage they’re like Aretha Franklin looking for a little respect.
Many mainstream sports reporters look down their elitist noses at them – if they don’t ignore them outright.
“If I can ignore you and not give you credibility by writing about you, then maybe you go away,” suggests Sandy Pugh. “It’s respect in reverse.”
According to Southern University’s website, around 9,000 students are enrolled at the school, located near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It is part of the nation’s only historically Black land-grant university system.
“When they say we’re HBCUs, people automatically think all African Americans,” continues Pugh, who was named Southern head women’s basketball coach in 2001. “That’s no longer the case anymore. At institutions such as Southern, Delaware State and Howard, the [student] percentages are creeping up in terms of Asians, Hispanics and Caucasians. We’re really a well-kept secret.”
Her Jaguars played Minnesota last Thursday, December 9, in women’s basketball. Although they fell short, “Anytime you can force  turnovers against a team of this caliber, then you did a pretty good job,” notes Pugh.
“We have a lot of respect for her program, and she does a good job,” says U of M Coach Pam Borton of Pugh, who’s in her 10th season at SU. Pugh led the school to its first regular-season title, tournament championship, and NCAA appearance in 2001-02. Her four NCAA appearances (2002, 2004, 2006, and 2010) are the most by a Southwestern Athletic Conference coach.
“I love the kids,” admits Pugh about her dozen coaching years. “I love seeing them have success and grow from a young girl from rural Mississippi or rural Louisiana, then graduating and going on to head up companies and do fantastic things as young women. I enjoy watching that.”
The Jaguars’ 2010-11 schedule includes losses to Iowa, Miami, Lamar and the U of M.
According to Pugh, that experience will only make her squad even tougher, as well as impress the NCAA selection committee when they start SWAC play next month.
“It’s good for us. We wanted to upgrade our schedule, because we were the [SWAC] champions last year but had a horrible seed,” she says. Southern faced eventual champion UConn in last year’s NCAA first round. “It has backfired on us to a degree, because we don’t have our starting PG [point guard].”
Junior point guard Carmeta Henderson is recovering from preseason surgery that removed a cyst from her back. “We hope to have her back in the next couple of weeks,” says Pugh of the two-year starter.
“I think it has been a good experience for our team to play against teams like Southern, which has one of the best teams they’ve [ever] had,” notes Borton. “They won their conference and their conference tournament last year, and they’re picked to win it again this year. They’ve got a veteran starting lineup, and we did not take Southern lightly. We want to play top teams in smaller conferences, which challenges us because those teams know how to win.”
After the loss to the Gophers last week, Pugh says, “I think we got this team on a neutral floor, and they got trouble. I know they don’t want to come to Baton Rouge.”
Visiting Black schools such as Southern may not leave the Barn with a win, but they do come away with a nice check as Minnesota gives the visitors a guaranteed amount to play at Williams Arena.
“Other than the Mall of America, there is no other reason to come up here,” says Pugh.
“But it gives [my players] a different perspective. It allows them to see different cultures, and the people here are really nice. I’m doing the same thing for them that my coaches did for me.”
SU “has a huge African American following in Baton Rouge,” says Pugh. “They want to know what we are doing and who we are playing. We get mad coverage…more coverage than a lot of women’s teams.”
As for the mainstream sports media, “They can continue to ignore us, but we will continue to sneak up on the back side. Our program is growing and getting better every day with every game and every season,” concludes Pugh.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.