Howard Coach Floyd Keith wonders what would happen if the Bison had the opportunity to play the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference powers late in the season.
"It's a struggle," Keith said of Howard's schedule. "It's kind of impossible to change because you have to have five other coaches agree to it. The other coaches would say, 'Why should we let Howard out of this?' We've got to be good early. That's all there is to it."
For the second time in two years, Howard's football team has an excellent chance to win its last six games of a season. But just like last year, the important part of the season came early, and after four games, the Bison were 0-3 in the league and had been eliminated from title contention.
League schedules, made out three to four years in advance, had the Bison playing powers Bethune-Cookman, South Carolina State and Florida A & M early this season. After Howard lost to A & M, 31-7, to drop its third straight league game, Keith said, "It would be interesting to see," when asked what the result might have been had the game been later in the fall.
The season has taken a dramatic turn for the Bison since. They are now healthy, several younger players who were forced prematurely into action have matured quickly, and, at 4-3, they are riding a three-game winning streak. Keith would not say the Bison could beat the teams they lost to earlier, but still he wonders.
"I think we are playing better now than we did earlier," he said. "Right now we are healthier and we are significantly more experienced. We are tackling better. We are a better team than we were early in the season."
Keith, in his third season, inherited the scheduling problem, and it does not expect to improve for the Bison.
MEAC Commissioner Ken Free said league games are locked into annually corresponding dates arranged by the schools and then approved by the league. Howard Athletic Director Leo Miles said the Bison will not always be playing out the second half of their season without the incentive of winning a league title.
"That's not necessarily so," Miles said. "Some day we might have the stronger team and they might be the weaker ones."
Free said Howard has never approached him about a schedule change. "At this time I would say it is unlikely (the schedule would be changed), but it's not improbable. We do have flexibility, but it would take a complete revision of the conference schedule."
Free said the only reason he could see for changing the schedule would be to play potentially important games late in the season so they would be attractive for television.
Florida A & M Coach Rudy Hubbard said he understands Howard's problem. "We're not trying to hurt anyone with the schedule. I'm a flexible sort of person. I wouldn't be opposed to changing it," he said.
Slow starts are nothing new to Howard. Only once in the last six years has a Bison team managed to reach the .500 mark after four games (2-2 in 1979). And the injuries and inexperience made it seem unlikely these Bison could match the finish of last season. But after three straight victories, and with three less than impressive opponents remaining, anything less than a 7-3 season now could be considered disappointing.
Remaining on the schedule are this Saturday's game with visiting Norfolk State, a 3-3-1 Division II school that is winless in its last four games; Western Illinois (4-4), which has lost to Eastern Illinois and North Michigan in its last two games, and 4-2 Morgan State, a 51-6 loser to Howard last year that lost to Bowie State this season, 7-3.