March Madness is one of the most exciting events in the sports world, and it all comes to a head during the Final Four, where the last teams left standing battle it out for college basketball supremacy.
On Sunday (April 4) the day after the NCAA Men's Final Four, CBS will be featuring a three-hour block of programming that celebrates the history, culture, and impact of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) on college basketball. The network will air Big House, The Pearl and Triumph of Winston-Salem State, Soul of The Game: The John Mclendon Story, and HBCUs: Elevating The Game. Also, ViacomCBS announced its commitment to HBCUs, by establishing an annual scholarship fund and internship opportunities dedicated to HBCU students with both programs beginning this year.
BET.com spoke with Harold Bryant, Executive Producer & Executive Vice President of CBS Sports, about the contributions of Black coaches and Black athletes to college sports, why investing in these institutions is a part of his mission, and the importance of highlighting HBCUs during Final Four Sunday CBS.
BET.com: The NCAA tournament is one of the most anticipated events of the year. Why did CBS choose this weekend to showcase the importance of HBCUs on Final Four Weekend?
Harold Bryant: Well, HBCUs are so rich in the history of sports and culture. And, you know, at times they haven't been given, they're just due for all they’ve contributed to American society. We believed that this was the best time to highlight those great schools, programs, and initiatives that are really near and dear to me. I didn't go to an HBCU but my father went to Fisk University, my mother went to Spelman, and I have plenty of uncles, aunts, and cousins who have gone to HBCUs. So, part of it is wanting to make sure we recognize such an important part of the fabric of American society.
BET.com: I read that you were planning an HBCU All-Star game that will be a part of the Final Four Weekend tradition. Who came up with the idea for an All-Star game for HBCU graduates?
Bryant: We were working in partnership with Travis Williams who coached at several HBCUs and he’s been developing this idea for several years. So, Travis Williams and his company HBCU All-Stars LLC and our programming group came together and said, “You know, let's create an all-star game as a point of entry to invest in more HBCU programming.” So, the HBCU All-Star game was born. It would have been great to do it this year but it was difficult with COVID restrictions. But next year, we'll hold the first game in New Orleans, and it's gonna be great. It's gonna be an exciting and spectacular event when we do it.
BET.com: CBS will be showing a block of programs featuring the stories of legendary HBCU coaches like John McClendon and Clarence “Big House” Gaines. As a Black executive producer and content creator, how does it feel to able to showcase these stories on such a large platform during one of the network’s most-watched events?
Bryant: Right off the bat, it makes me proud. It just makes me so proud to be able to highlight these stories and educate the world about these heroes that they may have never heard about and why they’re so important to the essence of the game. For instance, the great John McLendon, many people don't know that he's one of the greatest coaches ever. He is on the Mount Rushmore of college coaching. This is a man who studied basketball under James Naismith. He went to Kansas and studied basketball with the inventor of the game, and then took that and improved the game to what it is today. Players will tell you if they know their history, we would have never had, you know, Nolan Richardson's “40 minutes fo Hell,” or Showtime in the NBA without McLendon because he realized the game needed to be faster. He created the modern pace of the game.
Then, of course, you have Clarence “Big House” Gaines who was an imposing figure and an amazing coach. These great coaches were educating, not just on the basketball court, but off the court to create future leaders. That's what's great about telling these stories and the legacy of HBCUs in general, that, there’s such a rich history and culture of developing not only athletes but leaders in the community.
BET.com: A common thread of HBCU coaches is that they wanted to coach great athletes but they also wanted to develop great leaders who would serve their communities and the world in their respective vocations.
Bryant: Absolutely! The student part of it always comes first, in student-athlete. The student leaving college with a degree is just as important as playing on the team for four years.
BET.com: Lastly, what major takeaways do you want the viewers to leave with after watching the HBCU programs?
Bryant: I want them to learn, to be educated, and to understand what these men brought to the game and how at times they went unnoticed for their contributions. So, I want people to walk away with this knowledge and spirit of how important these individuals were and are to the game.
The HBCU basketball block of programming will air on CBS Sunday (April 4) from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET, starting with Big House, The Pearl & The Triumph of Winston-Salem State (3:00 PM, ET), continues with Soul of the Game: The John McLendon Story (4:00 PM, ET) and wraps up with HBCUs: Elevating The Game (5:00 PM, ET.)
Photo: Getty Images