A group of former HBCU athletes has filed a lawsuit against the NCAA claiming academic standards and subsequent penalties for not meeting them disproportionately discriminates against black athletes and universities.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana demands that the controversial Academic Progress Rate be abolished.

“… despite the NCAA’s fundamental promise to “refrain” from discriminating based on race in educational programs, the NCAA has a long history of discriminating against Black student-athletes and teams at HBCUs through the implementation of its so-called academic reforms,” the lawsuit said.

The 58-page document alleges historically discriminatory practices by the NCAA which have hurt HBCUs, including placing inequitable standards on members institutions because of challenges involving graduation rates and “lower academic progress rate,” said lead attorney Beth Fegan.

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And so HBCUs are already starting at lower graduation success rates, lower academic progress rates,” Fegan told NPR, “and yet they’re being held to the same benchmarks as predominantly white institutions who don’t have the mission [HBCUs do]. The NCAA should be supporting the mission of HBCUs, not penalizing them for it.”

The lawsuit indicated that despite historically black colleges and universities only making up 6 percent of Division 1 schools, 72 percent of all programs banned from postseason competition are HBCUs.

Former Savannah State basketball player Troyce Manassa says such harsh punishments levied by the NCAA for the program failing to meet the APR benchmark cost him not only the ability to participate in postseason play but possible professional pursuits.

“It caused me a lot of emotional distress,” Manassa told NPR. “Just knowing that we could’ve done something, knowing I could’ve had that opportunity. Also knowing I could’ve achieved some milestones, like [scoring] 1,000 points [for his career]. I finished with 900 and something. Just [not being able to] perform on the big stage. It was just a bummer for me overall.”

Manassa, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, explained that the APR penalties robbed him of playing basketball at a “much higher level.”

“The levels I’ve played at so far [were] the lowest of the low,” he said. “And I definitely think I could’ve played at a much higher level.”

The NCAA introduced the Supplemental Support Fund, $1 million in grants “to assist low-resource institutions [not just HBCUs] with funding academic needs,” Inside Higher Ed reported. It also created the HBCU Advisory Group, made up of college presidents, to serve “as a forum for sharing best practices” on improving their athletes’ academics.”

The lawsuit additionally requests compensation for Black college athletes whose teams have been penalized by the APR, and an end to all penalties associated with the metric.

“As a result of the (NCAA’s) actions, Plaintiffs and the class members have suffered and will continue to suffer injury, including lost opportunity, mental anguish, emotional distress, embarrassment, humiliation, and degradation,” the lawsuit stated.



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