Ed Reed and Bethune-Cookman recently parted ways due to the school's reluctancy to ratify his contract. Does this set HBCU football back?
Left: Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images, Right: Aron Smith/Jackson State University via Getty Images

Ed Reed’s Split from Bethune-Cookman Shows HBCUs Have to Steep Hill to Climb


Last Sunday, Bethune-Cookman University and Ed Reed announced that they would not be able to work with each other going forward. Reed posted on his Twitter that the university would not be ratifying his contract as head football coach. A historically black college and university (HBCU), Bethune-Cookman came to an agreement in principle with Reed on Dec. 27. The Hall of Famer and the school seemed ready to make a big change after the Wildcats finished just 2-9 on the season after finishing with the same disappointing record in 2021.

But now, the Wildcats now must scramble for a new head coach, but improving their football record may take be less important than the storm surrounding the university.

Ed Reed's Dispute with Bethune-Cookman Ends in Disappointment

Team Savage head coach Ed Reed during the 2020 Under Armour All-America Game

Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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Beyond the announcement, Reed was filmed discussing his opinion on the matter with players of the team, recruits and others. Bethune-Cookman released its own statement prior to Reed giving his speech. 

"Bethune-Cookman has announced that it has decided not to proceed with contract negotiations with Ed Reed to become the next head football coach at B-CU," the university said in the release. "While we appreciated the initial interest in our football program displayed by Mr. Reed during the course of recent weeks, we are also mindful of the qualities and attributes that must be exhibited by our institutional personnel during what has been uniquely challenging times for our campus as we recover from the impact of two hurricanes during this past fall semester."

Reed disagreed with the statement, announcing in his speech that the information put out by the university was false.

"We've been around here trying to change things," Reed said. "My vision for change, probably moving too fast for a lot of people. I'm not withdrawing my name, as they said. They don't want me here. They do not want me here because I tell the truth."


A few days prior to the official split, Reed released an apology to the university after he filmed himself criticizing the conditions of his office and the university.

"I would like to sincerely apologize to all BCU staff, students and alumni for my lack of professionalism," Reed said in his statement. "My language and tone were unacceptable as a father, coach, and leader. My passion for our culture, betterment and bringing our foundation up got the best of me and I fell victim while engaging with antagonists on social media as well." The news comes after Reed found the conditions at Bethune to be unacceptable, among other disagreements with the university. 

Ed Reed and Deion Sanders Return to the Sidelines at HBCUs

Head Coach Deion Sanders talk with his quarterback Jalon Jones #4 of the Jackson State Tigers during a time out during the game against the Alabama State Hornets at New ASU Stadium

Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

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Reed rocked the boat at Bethune. Whether or not Reed was in the right for getting upset at his employer, or if the school made the right decision to defend itself, is not what's important either. Ultimately, Reed's message is a reminder to some and a wake-up call to others: Historically black colleges and universities are lacking in resources. Without those resources, it will be near impossible for the schools to catch up to the Power Five athletically.


According to Infogram, 53.4% of Football Bowl Subdivision players are black. Although many of the great athletes of the sport are of African American descent, the top players are often kept away from the HBCUs.

Looking at the 2023 NCAA football recruiting rankings, one will not find any HBCUs in the picture. The top schools include Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and other blue bloods such as Notre Dame. It isn't for a bad reason that recruits are selecting these schools over schools such Bethune. They get access to high-level facilities, great coaching and big campuses. Players also get to play for a big brand that will be shown on national television to millions of viewers. None of these factors come into play at HBCUs.

Additionally, with the rise of name, image and likeness (NIL) rules, teams that already have those resources may only get stronger. Alabama has built a massive brand, and any big-name player who wants to join the team will be the face of that brand and attract a lot of money. Bryce Young has partnered with many big companies including Dr. Pepper, Nissan and Beats by Dre. Young collected millions of dollars while he did so.

With the advantages getting bigger for the Power Five schools, HBCUs are being left behind. The schools need powerful leaders who can step in and make changes -- making Reed's departure ever more hurtful.


Still, the process is possible. Colorado coach Deion Sanders led a turnaround at Jackson State university that caught national attention.

Sanders, a former Hall of Famer like Reed, has spent some time in coaching after his NFL career and in September of 2020, Sanders was hired to become the head coach of Jackson State. Upon arriving, Sanders immediately turned the football team around. The Tigers had a combined 12-21 in the three years prior to Sanders arriving. In his first season, Sanders went 4-3. Over the next two seasons, the man nicknamed "prime time" led the Tigers to an 11-2 record in 2021 and a one-loss, 12-win season in 2022. By winning the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship in 2021, Sanders won the school's first conference title since 2007. Sanders again won the SWAC in 2022 and lost only the Celebration Bowl in the season finale.

Coming in with little time to recruit and galvanize a talented team, Sanders did wonders for the community of Jackson State. He gave many hope in the city and launched the program to its highest heights, giving the community a reason to pack the stands each week.

With the hype surrounding the Tigers winning, Sanders began to turn Jackson State into a big power in recruiting. The Tigers landed the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2022, cornerback Travis Hunter. The defender has since remained loyal to Sanders, following him to Colorado. That news should be exactly what HBCUs need, as it shows that the right leader can bring in any player to any situation.


Sanders embraced the challenges of the community as well, a necessary requirement for those looking to turn HBCUs around. Sanders landed in the town of Jackson, a small city right in the heart of one of the poorest states in the nation.

Those financial issues didn't escape Sanders and his team. In the middle of the 2022 season, Sanders and his Jackson State team faced the adversity surrounding the community that other big colleges didn't need to face. During the 2022 season, Jackson faced a massive water crisis as floods and infrastructure problems wreaked havoc on the capital city.

"Forget our program -- it impacted the whole darn city," Sanders said in an interview with "60 Minutes." "I'm not into politics, but I am into people, and I just feel as though our people should be taken care of a lot better."

Coach Prime Brings Jackson State Back to it's Prime Time

Deion Sanders Coaching in Celebration Bowl

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Through the crisis, Jackson State kept winning, giving hope for the program, the future of HBCUs and for the people of Jackson.

"That's why Jackson State football is so important. Because we give them [the residents] a breath of fresh air," Sanders said. "We give them hope, we give them an escape every darn weekend, and usually that weekend comes out victorious and they're even more elated and forget about the nuances and the nonsense of that's happening in Jackson with the state and the government."

Despite the conditions, Sanders earned money for the program through his continued success. During his tenure, Sanders' team made enough money to help launch upgrades to the facilities. Even when the well ran dry, Sanders was dedicated to getting the job done.That is until the Pac-12 came calling.

Things will be different for the Tigers this season. Sanders has moved himself to Boulder, where he will coach Colorado this fall. Nevertheless, Sanders' progress in just a few seasons at Jackson State was remarkable and set a blueprint for others to raise HBCUs back to prominence in the grand scheme of collegiate athletics. Bethune could've been the next school to follow, too -- but with Reed having to step away, the immediate future seems much bleaker.


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