For the first time since 2009, not a single athlete from a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) was selected in this year's NFL draft. In the days following, a number of Black players expressed both disappointment and frustration, with NFL legend and current Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders leading the discourse.
In an effort to ensure that doesn't happen again, the league is implementing even more initiatives to raise the value of HBCU athletes, and it all begins Monday with the HBCU Open House.
The second annual meeting between HBCU stakeholders, NFL personnel and other leaders, the primary goal behind the session is to discuss the portfolio of existing NFL initiatives, areas of opportunity, and to further strengthen relationships.
"The Open House is a pinnacle event within the NFL Football Inclusion & Mobility programming calendar," Natara Holloway, Vice President Business Operations and Strategy, NFL Football Operations said to Yahoo Sports. "It provides an opportunity for administrators at the institutions to hear information on various programs the League offers to students interested in a career in the sports industry and professional development for student-athletes on and off the field."
This year’s NFL x HBCU programming will begin with addressing campus connection and the impact of Black institutions on professional football. There will also be a driving awareness around career opportunities outside of suiting up for one of the 32 franchises.
Another session will spotlight the NFL experienceship program, which was formed to develop and assist candidates at HBCUs interested in establishing a career in football operations with opportunities to learn the intricacies of the business through practical learning. A forum on HBCU careers will also cover similar topics.
A league virtual speaker series and Madden NFL tournament culminate the busy day, with the former focusing on how students can engage with industry professionals to strengthen their professional development.
Progress will only strength after Monday's events. Holloway says the NFL will host the HBCU Combine in Mobile, Alabama in February 2022. In addition to the combine, the NFL formed the HBCU Scouting Committee comprised of former and current league and club executives. This committee is committed to the scouting and selection process of HBCU athletes from the four prominent HBCU conferences (MEAC, SWAC, SIAC, CIAA).