By Mark F. Gray,
Special to the AFRO

In a conference that is teetering on the brink of extinction,  Morgan State University’s athletic program faces a crisis. With the resignations of former athletic director Ed Scott and Tyrone Wheatley as football coach, the Bears program finds itself in rebuilding mode needing leaders at the two most important positions inside all college athletic programs. 

With spring football around the corner and the early recruiting season over, the most relevant athletic programs are taking advantage of the renaissance of interest by blue chip athletes in competing at HBCUs. During this most important time of the athletic department’s calendar, Morgan should be aggressively working the transfer portal trying to recruit players who can be immediate difference makers. 

 However, Morgan State’s program is a rudderless crab boat on the Chesapeake Bay after two performances that were self indulgent and may ultimately prove to be their demise as a NCAA Division I program. The state’s greatest greatest college athletic legacy is facing a crisis and nobody on campus seems to be treating it with the importance that  pending doom warrants.

Scott hiring Wheatley will go down in Morgan athletics history as one of the worst hires ever.  In a time where HBCU programs got a spike from high profile coaches with NFL pedigree who project confidence and hope, the former New York Giants running back and University of Michigan phenom was an unmitigated failure.  Wheatley led the team to a 3-9 finish in his first season in 2019. There was no season in 2020 due to the pandemic. This past fall, Wheatley and Morgan State finished with a 2-9 mark.

In two full seasons Wheatley was 5-18 as a Football Championship Subdivision level head coach. His clandestine approach to community outreach and bringing attention to northeast Baltimore did nothing to push the needle forward. He wasn’t the leader to ride the momentum of national exposure since the wave of interest in competing at HBCUs spiked over the last 24 months by the hires such as Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders did at Jackson State despite a debilitating foot injury.  

Morgan’s visibility grew exponentially at President Joseph Biden’s inauguration when Amanda Gorman’s recitation of the poem “The Hill We Climb” earned her the poet laureate title and a tweeted, highly publicized job offer with Morgan. Though a wonderful story, it didn’t have the branding power of a nationally televised basketball game versus Howard during NBA All-Star weekend.  

 Since George Floyd’s murder, Morgan’s phlianthropic donations and national exposure have grown exponentially.  Apologists need to pump the brakes on blaming alumni contributions and the problems that most HBCUs face with Morgan’s athletic program. MSU is amongst the most beautiful campuses with some of the best athletic facilities on their level in America.

There is no better recruiting tool than a compliant, championship contending, athletic program led by its football team for any university.  It has led to increased enrollments and alumni contributions and retention of students at HBCUs such as North Carolina A & T and Jackson State. Morgan should have already been positioning itself to capitalize on its branding chances while the HBCU sports iron is hot.  Instead, the administrators have fumbled this chance and the long term impact could be devastating.

Morgan’s next hires must be willing to make a spousal commitment to the University instead of treating it as a significant other. The next athletic director has to chart a course for a future that may include realignment or potentially moving to a non-HBCU conference. Their next football coach has to understand how to use NIL (name images and likeness) as an asset – not a liability – while using the NCAA’s transfer portal to immediately change the fortunes of the program by dramatically increasing the talent pool and bringing positive national publicity to the program. 

The demise of Morgan’s athletic program for over 50 years now is the absence of forward thinking. What is the vision for the future? There is no longer time to hurry up and wait because tomorrow in Division I is no longer a promise. 

So here’s a blueprint…free of charge!!.

Mark F. Gray is an award winning sports journalist with 30 years experience covering HBCU Sports.  Gray is a 1990 graduate of Morgan State who has worked for ESPN, CBS Radio, Sirius/XM, Radio One, The Shadow League, The Atlanta Journal/Constitution, and The Sporting News.  He is currently Assistant Managing Editor of MLBbro.com, Managing Editor of the HBCU Sports Nation For Smash Entertainment.net, play by play announcer and multimedia content producer for Heritage Sports Radio Network.

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