The University of South Carolina was founded in 1801 to give South Carolinians a place of publicly funded higher education. The only college in the state at this time was College of Charleston, which would remain a small private school until well into the 20th century. Of course, those who know American history at all know that a public college was not mean to serve all South Carolinians. Slavery still existed when USC was established, and would continue to remain in existence for over 60 years after the creation of the state's first public university. And after slavery was abolished under the 13th Amendment following the Civil War, Southerners did everything they could to continue to suppress the large black population in the region. It would take another 100 years after the abolishment of slavery for African-Americans to gain acceptance to the University of South Carolina. Higher education, like many old institutions in the United States, was to be originally for white men only.
So in order to have an educated black population, schools were built to educate these newly freed slaves that were prohibited from attending the established colleges. The first colleges in South Carolina built for blacks were opened in 1870 in Columbia and are today known as Allen University and Benedict College. No public college would be opened for black students until 1896, when the state opened the "Colored, Normal, Industrial, Agricultural, and Mechanical College of South Carolina" in Orangeburg, a small city just over 30 miles southeast of Columbia. This is the college that would soon enough become South Carolina State University. And after the creation of SC State, the state did not feel it was necessary again during the time of segregation to open another state-supported school for African-Americans. There are five other HBCU four-year schools in South Carolina, all of which are private. These schools, as a result, have to rely largely on financial aid and scholarships to keep their schools going.
Being the only state-supported HBCU, South Carolina State has managed to build up its traditions dating back to segregation. They enjoy a competitive rivalry with North Carolina A&T, with most of their rivals being out of state, as other South Carolina HBCUs are too small to be competitive. SC State has occasionally tried to build up a rivalry with Division II Benedict in football and next-door neighbor Claflin in basketball, but so far neither rivalry has taken off. SC State's traditions date back to when their students did not have schools like the University of South Carolina as a choice.
But when segregation ended, an opportunity arose to bridge the gap between these two schools. The Bulldogs were only Division II once they could join the NCAA, and could only face the Gamecocks in exhibitions. One of my dad's colleagues was a SC State student at the time, and was angered by what happened on the court. Officiating seemed to be heavily biased towards the established USC, which still had mostly white players who were recruited from the Northeast by Coach Frank McGuire. These scrimmages were carefully controlled to make sure that there would be no challenge to the status quo in South Carolina. The schools would not meet in an official game until the 1979-1980 season, when the Gamecocks escaped the Bulldogs (who were transitioning at the time to Division I) with a one-point win. The schools would then not meet again for another 15 years.
But since the mid-1990s, South Carolina and SC State now meet on the court most years. This is in large part because SCSU is a very good choice for a guarantee game opponent. And around the country HBCUs have been popular choices for schools above the Red Line who want a guarantee game. By playing a HBCU, historical refusals to play a school can be made up for, and HBCU basketball teams are usually less likely to pull the Red Line Upset than an established mid-major power. And HBCUs like SC State who have football need the money to support their underfunded athletic departments. As a result, MEAC and SWAC teams can often be found playing at major conference venues prior to conference play.
But today we now enter 2012, and a game between the historically major white university and the historically major black university of South Carolina no longer has a racially charged meaning. Most younger fans like myself have not lived in a time where segregation existed, and tonight was just another guarantee game for most. Both teams had the same number of white players, with the only white player playing a key role for either team in tonight's game being Serbian Luka Radovic, who plays for SC State and led all scorers with 15 points.
Tonight's game was perhaps a chance for the Bulldogs to finally be able to beat USC, which they have never done in 17 tries. The Gamecocks have suffered two Red Line Upsets, including one to a HBCU in Tennessee State. Last year's leading scorer Bruce Ellington would play on tired legs after playing American-style football the previous day at a bowl game in Orlando. But the Bulldogs have been on a slide as of late, starting with the last time I saw them, when they lost by over 30 at home to Georgia State.
The crowd was small, officially 6,500 and likely smaller despite this being USC's one home game this year not on any television outlet. The crowd that did arrive finally got to see the Gamecocks take the game over like one would expect in a guarantee game. The Gamecocks led by 22 points at halftime and would see that lead hold during the second half. The only success the Bulldogs had was the play of Luka Radovic, who scored 15 points and forced USC's frontcourt into major foul trouble, with three Gamecocks one foul away from being disqualified. But the Gamecocks would still manage to get a lopsided 79-51 victory in the final non-conference game for both teams.
While better racial equality has occurred in South Carolina over the past 50 years, race unfortunately still has an impact in the culture today. In defiance of the Civil Rights Movement, the state decided to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Civil War by topping the statehouse dome with the Confederate Battle Flag made infamous by the Ku Klux Klan in 1961. And even today, state leaders have not been able to come up with a resolution to remove the flag from the statehouse grounds in its entirety. This has led to an economic boycott by the NAACP (and why the NCAA has not placed a sub-regional in the state since 2002). This is part of the past that still casts a shadow on South Carolinians today.
And finally, the biggest roar from the crowd came when walk-on Shane Phillips entered the game. Phillips was not on the team at the start of the season, and was activated from the practice squad a few weeks into the season to add more depth to the bench. To see a regular student work his way onto the basketball team was something worth celebrating, and I cheered with the rest of the crowd. But part of me wonders if the crowd would have reacted the same if Phillips was black. This was the first time this season that a white player had entered the game for the Gamecocks, and I think the fact that Phillips looked different from the rest of the players was a big reason for the cheering. I don't think the crowd was thinking in explicit racial terms, but they now saw a white guy on the court and now had a Gamecock player who they could identify with. Even I can admit that I can relate to Phillips more than the other players, not just because we are both white but because when I played sports, I was the one at the end of the bench who had to wait to get the chance to play. I would hope the crowd would have cheered the same for a black walk-on, but a black walk-on would have likely just blended in with his teammates. Each play in the final two minutes went through Phillips, who usually missed his shot badly or caused a turnover. In the final seconds, instead of dribbling the ball out, the Gamecocks found Phillips underneath the basket, where he got fouled attempting a layup. Phillips missed the first free throw, and had only more chance to get a point. To the delight of the crowd, Phillips scored the final point of the game on the second free throw. The favorite of the crowd finally got a point, and that is something positive that can come from guarantee games.
Racial equality is coming along, but there is still progress to be made. It is not easy to talk about race, but ignoring the subject just presents more challenges. Games between South Carolina and South Carolina State are generally good for this purpose even if one may see it as just another guarantee game. When I graduated a month ago with my master's degree at USC, there were many black students getting their degree as well. Hopefully, someday we will live in a society where the historical differences between the two schools do not matter, and see many students from all backgrounds at both universities.
at SOUTH CAROLINA 79, SOUTH CAROLINA STATE 51 01/03/2012
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE 4-10 (0-1) -- K. Toombs 3-8 3-4 9; A. Martin 3-7 1-4 9; L. Radovic 6-10 3-4 15; O. Sanders 1-4 2-6 4; D. Joint 3-10 1-3 8; B. Riley 2-10 0-0 4; J. Ikhinmwin 0-1 0-0 0; S. Barber 0-2 2-2 2; T. Gilleylen 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-52 12-23 51. SOUTH CAROLINA 8-6 (0-0) -- L. Jackson 3-4 0-1 6; R. Slawson 3-5 1-2 9; M. Cooke 3-6 4-4 11; D. Harris 4-9 3-3 11; A. Gill 2-3 2-2 6; D. Leonard 3-6 0-0 9; E. Smith 3-5 0-0 8; B. Ellington 3-5 0-0 9; C. Geathers 2-3 0-0 4; B. Richardson 1-4 0-0 2; B. Williams 1-3 1-2 3; S. Phillips 0-3 1-2 1. Totals 28-56 12-16 79.
Three-point goals: SCST 3-15 (K. Toombs 0-1; B. Riley 0-2; O. Sanders 0-1; D. Joint 1-5; A. Martin 2-6), SC 11-23 (M. Cooke 1-1; B. Ellington 3-3; B. Richardson 0-2; R. Slawson 2-4; E. Smith 2-3; D. Leonard 3-6; S. Phillips 0-2; B. Williams 0-2); Rebounds: SCST 29 (D. Joint 10), SC 34 (R. Slawson 9); Assists: SCST 11 (K. Toombs 4), SC 17 (L. Jackson 3); Total Fouls -- SCST 13, SC 20; Fouled Out: SCST-None; SC-None.