Analysis Shows Why HBCUs Deserve So Much More from the NCAA

An analysis from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that profits for collegiate athletics in the nation’s top athletic conferences have exploded over the last 15 years, with the revenues benefiting white coaches and athletes, but not the Black athletes who attract the dollars.

From the Washington Post:

The data yielded a number of preliminary findings. First, the revenue generated by those athletic departments nearly doubled during the study period, from $4.4 billion to $8.5 billion. Nearly 60 percent of that revenue was generated by football and basketball teams, much of it derived from the increasingly lucrative sale of broadcast rights to major television networks.

The story continued:

Much of the money generated by football and basketball programs is spent on salaries for coaches and administrators and on the construction of lavish facilities for the teams. But millions of dollars also flow each year to such “nonrevenue” sports as tennis, sailing and crew, which don’t generate substantial revenue and hence are reliant on the substantial profits from football and basketball to sustain them financially. The students playing those sports tend to be Whiter and hail from wealthier neighborhoods than those who play football and basketball. Black students constitute nearly 60 percent of the rosters of football and basketball teams, and just 11 percent of the rosters of all other sports. Similar racial dynamics are apparent among coaches. Football and basketball players also came from neighborhoods with higher rates of poverty and lower incomes than students in other sports.

The bedrock of the study examines the inherent wrongdoing of NCAA sports programs refusing to share profits with athletes under the guise of athletes benefiting from academic scholarships.

But it amplifies, perhaps by accident, a searing point of why historically black colleges and universities are the models for equity throughout collegiate athletics.

The search for campuses where African Americans and women are most likely to get opportunities in Division I or Division II athletics begins and ends with HBCUs, from the highest administrative and coaching positions down to the graduation rates of Black students who participate in collegiate sports.

While much of the coverage on HBCUs competing in the NCAA is dedicated to their missing the mark on academic and infrastructure compliance, virtually no attention is paid to the wealth, experience, exposure, and training they provide for Black people looking to build careers in sports.

The NCAA does an excellent job of hiding the fact that the small amount of diversity it can claim in its coaching and administrative ranks is largely carried by HBCUs. HBCUs proudly carry this burden on behalf of an association with hundreds of predominantly white institutions actively working to be less diverse, and the NCAA punishes HBCUs for their service through severe and regular academic progress rate sanctions and public censuring and by blocking HBCU representation on key association rulemaking and penalty-issuing committees.

So much of the country has slowly limped towards corporate course correction on racial inequities in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder in May and in the ongoing COVID-19 global health pandemic, but the NCAA has remained largely out of the line of criticism on how HBCUs remain as the marginalized, under-resourced and overly-penalized stepchildren of the association.

There is a legitimate conversation to be held and a reckoning yet to fall upon the NCAA for its generations of abuse of Black athletes and Black colleges, a conversation that is starting with surprising advocates in people like University of Kentucky head men’s basketball coach John Calipari.

But the real reckoning is found in the numbers, and how Black people choose to hold the NCAA accountable for the harrowing story that they tell.