For one night, Southern plays the shark

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
12:51
PM ET

Southern University is not a basketball power.

Southern University is a member of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. It is a historically black college in Baton Rouge, La., best known for its marching band, which is nicknamed the “Human Jukebox,” which must make that guy from “Police Academy” furious. The Jaguars have one NCAA tournament win in their history.

Southern’s athletic program is not the deep-pocketed exploitation apparatus decried by critics of amateur athletics. Rather, it is a shoestring operation that exists for the reason amateur athletics should exist: It provides a path to a collegiate education for students who might otherwise be without one.

As such, the Jaguars spend most of their Novembers and Decembers playing “buy games.” They travel to, say, Florida (or Arizona, or Baylor, or Marquette -- all games on Southern’s 2013-14 nonconference schedule), they get drubbed, and their athletics department gets a sum of money in return. The basketballs stay inflated. The floor stays waxed. The lights stay on.

It isn’t easy: This summer, the NCAA announced that Southern was one of 18 schools hit with an Academic Progress Rate penalty for the 2013-14 season, and one of 10 to receive a postseason ban. Three other SWAC teams were on that list; 11 of the 18 were historically black colleges or universities. This is not a coincidence; the resources simply aren’t there.

But on Monday night, Southern University won a college basketball game 116-12.

Wait. What?!

That’s right: On Monday night, Southern beat Champion Baptist College by 104 points. The Jaguars scored the first 44 points of the game; they held Champion Baptist scoreless for the first 14:45 of the first half. They smashed by 10 points an all-divisions record (previously held by Seton Hall) for game-opening runs. Champion Baptist finished 3-of-44 from the field.

How does something like this happen? ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman caught up with Southern University coach Roman Banks, who said he didn’t realize what was going on until he noticed fans cheering for a made Champion Baptist free throw with 5:15 left in the first half.
“I didn't even realize they hadn't scored until then," Banks said. "They made a free throw and then everyone starting clapping. I looked at the scoreboard and then asked my assistant if that was the right score. I had no idea. It surprised me."

That sort of explains it, but not really. The real question is, how does a school like Southern come to schedule an opponent that is so far inferior to the Jaguars that they end up winning by 104 points?

Think of it like the old ocean cartoons you used to watch as a kid, when a fish would swallow its tiny prey, only for it to be swallowed in turn, and on and on. Champion Baptist is an independent member of the Association of Christian College Athletics, which isn’t even NAIA-level. But it is in the ocean. To a team in the Big Ten, the SWAC looks like a school of tasty trout. To the ACCA, it must resemble a swarm of tiger sharks.

Or, less metaphorically: Southern, the school that plays almost exclusively buy games in the nonconference, had enough money to pay for two buy games of its own. Champion Baptist was one of them.
“Otherwise, we won't have any games at home in the nonconference," Banks said. "Almost every other game we play is on the road and is a money game, in which we bring in money to help support the program and the athletic department."
Southern athletic director William J. Broussard added that money probably factored into Champion Baptist's decision to play the Jaguars.
“I assume it's a budget-balancer for them as well," he said.

A legendarily unfortunate budget-balancer, yes … but a budget-balancer all the same. This is how the sport works. Everybody’s got to eat.

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