The final score was 39-0, but it was not a football game.
Mississippi Valley State baseball was playing New Mexico State in its second game of the season when it faced that lopsided scoreline. The Feb. 23 loss set a record for the NMSU and the Western Athletic Conference for the highest score ever recorded.
For the Delta Devils, it was part of the trend that has troubled other Historically Black Colleges and Universities with their baseball programs. In the SWAC and MEAC last season, six teams out of 19 finished above .500, a challenge for many of the them who face stiff competition and a lack of funding like they had in the past.
Mississippi Valley State is one of those 13 who have not been so lucky. The team has not had double digit wins since 2011 and is rebuilding after losing retired coach Doug Shanks in 2014.
These teams are looking to fight for prominence in a place where teams not named Bethune-Cookman or Jackson State often are beat out for recruits. Coaches need a model, something to take as how to rebuild the right way,
Take Southern University as that example of what to strive for.
The program hired Kerrick Jackson as their head coach in 2017 to oversee the revival of what once was an HBCU baseball staple. Jackson has connections in coaching from both HBCUs and from Missouri, along with pro experience from scouting with the Washington Nationals.
In a way, Jackson is the perfect type of candidate for these schools.
In an interview with College Baseball Central, the coach highlighted getting back to the basics with his players and focusing on the process of improving. For Jackson, he sees change as possible through a long term job.
“I was honest,” Jackson said. “I said (to the team) ‘I can’t promise you that we’re going to win more games, but I can promise you that we’re going to play better. If the spectrum is A to Z, we may not get to Z this year. We may only get to F, but rest assured that A through F we’re going to do very, very, very well.’”
Southern fell below the required Academic Progress Rating (the main figure tracked by the NCAA for academic success) last season, leading to a postseason ban until 2018. The former Bethune-Cookman and Nebraska player cited an renewed importance in academics as part of his changes.
“That’s the one thing I told the administration,” Jackson said. “‘You do not understand how special a day it will be when we go to Omaha. It will change the outlook on HBCUs. It will change the outlook for black kids that play this game when they see us on that national stage year in and year out. It will be a game changer.’”
Jackson represents what HBCU sports need: former players who have played within their leagues and have gotten coaching jobs that will give them the necessary tools to teach. Those coaches will be better served both for recruiting and for coaching because they know what to expect.
There is no sure fire way to measure that success until a couple years down the road. For now though, Southern may soon again become the HBCU stalwart to watch.