In what is yet another black eye for the collective reputation of HBCU athletics, the CIAA Championship game was cancelled by CIAA commissioner Jacquie Carpenter because of an altercation involving a Winston Salem State University player and what was initially reported as five players from Virginia State University. It was later clarified that Winston Salem State's Rudy Johnson was confronted by five players and attacked by a single member from VSU. Virginia State University backup running back, Lamont Britt, was arrested and charged with assault after being named by Johnson as his assailant. The unfortunate circumstances occurred during a luncheon at the Anderson Center on the WSSU campus that was attended by members of the football team from both schools. Play-by-play announcers Mark Gray and Mike Walker of Heritage Sports Radio Network (HSRN) were on hand to cover the the CIAA Championship Weekend and gave the Shadow League a firsthand account of how it all went down.
"That cancellation is a bad look man," said Gray during a telephone discussion. "That game was going to be nationally televised on Bounce TV and we were going to broadcast it on HSRN. At least with the Grambling situation it was athletes standing up for something. This is just ignorance."
The conference has a storied tradition as the oldest athletic association of African American schools in the United States, with Chowan University in North Carolina being the only non-HBCU to compete. One cannot overstate the importance of tradition in athletics at predominately black colleges and universities. For some, the game's cancelation was unfathomable. What's doubly confusing is the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association women's volleyball championship was also cancelled.
"I'm still shocked that they cancelled volleyball," added the one-time ESPN contributor. "I guess they're trying to teach them all the way around. You're punishing a whole bunch of kids who haven't done anything. So, what are you saying? A whole bunch of kids have to suffer because a couple knuckleheads don't know how to act?"
There have been many highly-publicized altercations involving collegiate student-athletes over the last decade or so. This is nothing new. In fact there was an altercation in which University of Kansas football and basketball players were involved in an all out brawl against one another in 2009. In February 2001 there was also an incident between the women's basketball teams of Maryland-Eastern Shore and Bethune-Cookman in which eight women were suspended from their respective teams for fighting. What prompted the commissioner of the CIAA to come down so harshly is anybody's guess. It's not like brawling student-athletes is unprecedented. However, canceling a championship game because of an inter-squad brawl that involved only two players certainly is. Both schools had a record of 9-1 and ranked in the AFCA Division II Top 25. Could you imagine if the fight involved players from Auburn and Alabama and this step was taken? SEC commissioner Michael Slive would be vilified in the national media.
"If someone had died then they would be saying how they were going to play the game in that player's memory," said Gray. "But you cancel the championship because of a fight?"
"I guess the commissioner decided to cancel the game to prevent any other incidents from occurring as a result of this fight," said play-by-play announcer Mike Walker. "We're not sure how this is going to be recorded on their records nor are we certain how this will affect the playoffs because they are both eligible. People are upset that a game is not occurring and you have people that heard some variation of the story and are highly upset and angered that this happened. Everybody is trying to figure out what caused it and that's not out yet."
On Saturday, the CIAA Board of Directors disqualified the Virginia State football team from post season play. Winston Salem State was awarded a 4-seed and will play Slippery Rock University in the D-II football tournament. The women's volleyball championship has been scheduled and will occur on the campus of Fayetteville State University.